Friday, December 28, 2007

Expanding knowledge: Technorati and Accessibility

This post began as a way to claim my blog on Technorati. I was doing a regular Google search on myself, and had multiple references via Technorati, so I felt it was time to learn something about it. In addition, I am currently a Graduate Assistant on the Shaping Outcomes Continuing Education project here at IUPUI. Shaping Outcomes is a web-based tutorial that shows users how to plan projects using Outcomes-Based Planning and Evaluation (OBPE), a best practice in museum and library services. I took Shaping Outcomes as a part of my Evaluation of Library Sources and Services class during the summer of 2007.
I was brought on this fall as the second phase of the project began, and have enjoyed the work immensely. Now I am responsible for "technical and participant support," which includes maintaining both the project and course websites. I will use Technorati to watch for blog postings relating to my work. Currently the largest part of my work has been to improve the accessibility of the course's website. A friend at church is visually-impaired, and was kind enough to briefly look over the site and provide feedback. I am wading through the wealth of information on the WC3's Web Accessibility Initiative website, and have implemented a number of their "quick tips" that address my friend's feedback. (Thank you, Jana!) I am planning to take a course on "Resources and Services for People with Disabilities" this summer, and appreciate this head-start on the topic.
Happy New Year!

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Throw a Drowning Librarian a … Brick?

I just finished reading “Consuming Information” by Brett Bonfield on, and this blog’s title accurately describes my emotional response. I entered graduate school with good skills in web page development, strong abilities in computer software and hardware, and an eager willingness to learn about the latest advances. As the semester ends and as I work to complete numerous projects and assignments, I’ve been feeling pretty successful at riding the technological wave on the ocean of Library and Information Science, and far from drowning. Mr. Bonfield’s list of twelve steps to better information management, while meant as resource-for-choosing-resources, is simply too long for most librarians to complete amidst all other work-related tasks. The advice makes rational sense, but how many of us need one more reason to spend scarce “off-duty” time being better prepared when we go back “on-duty?” And the list of 42 links to web sites relevant to his topic, while helpful, feels like added weight to the workload I’m already carrying. To top it all off, Mr. Bonfield uses an analysis of “Second Life” as an example of a three-step strategy for “staying informed.” Like the information above, it is valuable and informative, but combined into one article it can have the cumulative effect of a certain iceberg on a certain cruise ship. Don’t get me wrong: I plan to test his ideas to see if they really work. But their value rests on some assumptions that bear closer examination.

First, while emphasizing the low-cost or free nature of these resources, using them is dependent on having newer computers and quality data connections. Both are more likely for libraries with greater funding in large, metropolitan areas. And, both are more likely for higher-paid library staff than for new and/or lower-level staff. I live in a semi-rural area, and pay twice as much for a broadband connection as my peers living in larger cities. In some places in the US, dial-up is still the only option available!

Second, suggestions like “check out podcasts and vlogs,” and “become a Firefox hacker” assume that librarians have spare time at work to learn some programming, and would enjoy doing so. Nothing could be further from the truth for many of my classmates. And for them, a suggestion that “IM saves time” translates into “yet one more thing I have to keep track of.” Even Meredith Farkas admits in a recent blog entry, “Must admit, being out of the loop for a week was nice” after spending time in Florida. Our daily lives are already tethered to cell phones, voicemail, email, and the like, both at home and at work. Now I should add IM to the mix??!!

When I think of a library-school peer who was nearly brought to tears because of the frustrations of trying to make even the best technology in a thoroughly modern computer lab work for her, I just have to ask, “Is technology working for the librarian, or is the librarian working for technology?”

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Change is Inevitable, Wisdom is Sought

I am struck by the similarities between widely divergent topics of discussion that I’ve experienced lately. As I was driving to school Monday, I was listening to a podcast of “The Woodsongs Old Time Radio Hour,” which I’d downloaded (legally!) to CD. One of the featured guests was an African-American blues singer and musician named Bobby Rush. As guest and host were talking between numbers, Mr. Rush related an exchange where a “young lady…about 18” told him “I don’t want to hear about the blues because it reminds me of slavery.” He went on to say that fewer and fewer “black musicians” are playing the blues, while more “white” musicians and audiences are taking an interest in the blues. Mr. Rush’s response was that “Slavery is a part of history. It happened… and you must know about that.” I agree that if we do not know where we have come from, we cannot truly know where we are going.

In a less-profound way, the cataloging and organizing of information is facing a similar turn away from the past. I am currently taking a class on cataloging, and I can see in my classmates’ reactions that AACR2, LC, and Dewey are just something to put up with. A part of me feels the same way as well. With all we’ve learned about organizing data, why hasn’t someone invented a better way to classify and arrange books and other materials in a library? But as I struggle to learn and use the tools we have, I see that, while inconsistent, culturally-biased, and far from perfect, these rules and procedures have real value, and are a laudable attempt to organize something that is determinedly inconstant. As our profession moves to embrace the power of the latest technology -- Web 2.0, Library 2.0, Subject Guide 2.0 -- let us remember to bring forward the lessons learned by Dewey and others. Our profession strives to provide the best and easiest access to any information our patrons want. Let’s use that knowledge and experience to influence and guide the future of information searching. If we do not, we will end up either re-creating the next millennium’s version of the AACR2, LC, and Dewey; or we will simply settle for something of poorer quality, and trading the power knowledge for the vulnerability of ignorance.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Little Things and Big Questions

Usually I spend Tuesdays working on homework, and by the time the afternoon rolls around, I find inspiration for my blog. Today, however, I spent the morning on a conference call, my first one in an academic setting. I was reminded that no matter how whiz-bang fantastic a new technology is, the success or failure of its implementation/use is highly dependent on non-technological stuff, namely the environment and behavior of human beings. As an example, the conference call I participated took place in a room that had a large, donut-shaped table about a dozen feet across. The tabletop was made of finished wood, and looked great, but the hole in the middle prevented the leaders from putting the conference phone in the middle, where it would do the most good. Of the ten people present, only a few projected their voices well enough to be heard from where they sat. The rest had to take turns moving to the head of the table, and even then some were so naturally soft-spoken that remote participants had a hard time making out their words. One of the remote participants, obviously using a handset instead of a speakerphone, kept blowing her nose at very inopportune times, interrupting or completely obscuring important content. Finally, another participant tried to dial in using a cell phone, and for several minutes everything she said had an echo. I don’t know how others felt, but these distractions both tried my patience, and reminded me of the fragility of any multi-person endeavor, no matter how carefully planned and pre-tested.

Taking a step back, I have worked in a variety of jobs and environments. I have worked in a major call-center, where I was judged more by the number of calls I handled than the quality of service provided. I have worked in childcare, where every time you turn around another child’s natural needs demanded your full attention. I’ve worked on a production line for Keebler, a cog to help turn out cookies by the thousands. Every position I’ve worked has had its share of demands, busy times and slow times. But the time I’ve spent as a Graduate Assistant has been the most laid-back, evenly paced, take-the-time-to-learn-first work I have ever done. Observing reference librarians’ work, they too seem to have a bit more time to take doing their work than anything I’ve ever done. And, like one’s health, one often does not appreciate what one has until it is threatened, or gone. How do I share what I’ve learned, seen and done with other librarians? What words and/or actions can I employ that will encourage them to see that every time someone’s profession is downgraded (e.g., some forms of outsourcing, or having untrained personnel serve in Reference positions), all our professions can be called into question?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Blog Surfin' for Ideas

Some weeks I come to the process of blogging with an issue I want to discuss, or at least comment on. Other times I surf the feeds I’ve subscribed to via Bloglines, hoping to be inspired. This week is one of the latter, and two postings, one thoughtful and one humorous, are worth commenting on. First, from Infoblog, some of the “Prognostications from CLA 2007, Part 1”, and my thoughts thereon:
In the future…
*Library users will choose from a variety of convenient borrowing plans – enabling them to check out more items for a shorter loan period, or fewer items for a longer loan period, or have all materials due on the same day each month, etc.
*Retiring baby boomers will demand elaborate summer reading programs for adults.
*The library will become a primary destination for consumer health information and services such as flu shots, well baby clinics, etc.
*Libraries will broaden – and improve - their pool of applicants for customer service jobs by omitting the word "library" from recruitment ads.
*Demand-based dynamic shelving algorithms will replace the Dewey Decimal System
Inspired and creative thinking like this is essential if libraries are to survive, and remain relevant as society evolves. While I was unemployed in the summer of 2006, a friend, who had just graduated from IUPUI – SLIS, talked me into enrolling, saying that someone with my combination of computer skills and a strong customer service ethic would be a valuable contributor to the profession. In a cynical mood, I asked if Google and the Internet would make libraries irrelevant, or would there really be a job for me when I graduated. I’ve learned that what I thought was an either-or proposition turns out to be a kind of “both-and” choice. We all know the inroads Google has made into areas such as ready-reference. So, how else do we get patrons in the door, and expose them to the variety of resources we offer that are not easily or not at all available at their fingertips? We possess the tools and skills to make the power of information available to all. Why not tie this in with community services such as flu-shots and well-baby clinics? Our local Boys and Girls Club has a mini-branch of the library within. Why not put mini-branches in daycare centers, with specialized resources for parents? Or in malls, with Consumer Reports, fashion magazines, and money-management resources prominently displayed?
Yet, I am no different from any other job-seeker. I want this degree to guarantee me a position that pays decently, and will last many years. Otherwise, why spend all the money and time to get an advanced degree? Truth be told, as I look at the richness and diversity in the library science profession, even when I am (hopefully) awarded an up-to-date MLS, I feel like a surfer who has missed most of the good waves of the day, and the seas are beginning to calm. Do I have to run twice as hard as those already in the field, fighting and clawing my way through crowds of tech-savvy, highly experienced professionals, just to find my niche? Sure, there are libraries out there that are farther “behind the times” than I am; but will they even be interested in the education and skills I have to offer? I can be as averse to risk as anyone, but I would prefer to work in a place where such aversion is the exception, rather than the norm.
In the future…
*The majority of new library construction will be "green" – and LEED certified.
*Libraries will take steps to become carbon neutral.
For a profession that saw the advantages for organizing information, I say, “It’s about time!” When I first joined ALA and subscribed to the Social Responsibility Round Table, I thought that this was what they would be all about: challenging the profession as a whole to call for environmentally sound practices. I will celebrate the day when libraries actively strive to be “green” and carbon neutral.
In the future…
*Library users will schedule personalized reader’s advisory sessions with a "reading coach."
Watch this YouTube video for a humorous interpretation of this one. (If I can’t end my blog with thoughtful questions, at least it will end with a laugh!)


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Exercise your brain?

A recent discussion on the LITA listserv is my food for thought this week. It began by citing an op-ed column from the NY Times (tongue-in-cheek, I suspect):

“Until that moment, I had thought that the magic of the information age was that it allowed us to know more, but then I realized the magic of the information age is that it allows us to know less. It provides us with external cognitive servants – silicon memory systems, collaborative online filters, consumer preference algorithms and networked knowledge. We can burden these servants and liberate ourselves.”

The first respondent indicated that this “outsourcing” of information was seen “as being the antithesis of thinking, therefore it was less knowledge, not more.” Another talked about how the brain is a muscle that needs to be exercised, and deplored the technology-induced entropy of the brain. My first reaction to these discussions was to ask why we must create and control so much information that we need techno-crutches to survive? What purpose do they serve? If this “stuff” will help us live longer, make more money, and be more comfortable, then how much information is enough? How much is too much? But even these questions, for me, only scratch the surface of this issue. I prefer to take a step back and look at the context that encourages us to leave it all to technology.

“How may I serve you?”

Here in the US, the capitol of capitalism, we are asked this question, in all its myriad forms, dozens of times a day, both overtly and subtly. I’ve worked as a business customer service representative for a major telecommunications company, and was encouraged to greet each incoming call with, “How may I provide you with excellent service today?” Our kitchens abound with gadgets and tools just waiting at our beck and call to help us fix quick meals. Cable television waits in most homes to entertain, as does the Internet on our computers. GPS devices in our cars help us find our way to wherever we want to go. At the drive-thru or the restaurant we are asked, “May I take your order?” And at the bank, “How may I help you?” The roll of the librarian is a service-oriented role, though the level of knowledge required to be most effective does allow us to require a “masters” degree. Nonetheless, most of us in this technological society have a role to play serving one or groups, and being served or assisted by others, on and off the job.

The larger number of “servants” you can call upon, can direct and control, the more prosperity and power you are perceived to have. The more we can control in our lives, the safer (and happier?) we can be. As a recent beneficiary of arthroscopic knee surgery, I am exceedingly grateful for the ability to walk, bike, swim and sleep without pain anymore. Medical and related technologies have improved my quality of life above what my ancestors even dreamed of. Yet, why do we feel the need to have impersonal help with every aspect of our lives? What are we avoiding this way?

On a more personal note, I find it far too easy to "outsource" thinking. When I sit down to work at the computer, whatever answers I need are only a few keystrokes and/or mouse clicks away. As a graduate student, I am expected to have read and absorbed knowledge, and have it waiting and ready for class. But when I get to class, too often my mind is a blank, assuming that something outside me will provide contextual clues to help me know what to say or do next. And while I grew up with very little technology (beyond paper and pencil), I shudder to think how irrelevant traditional education must seem to students who have been served by technology all their lives. (If you haven't seen the YouTube video created by Michael Wesch and students at Kansas State University, take time now to see it.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Wildfires and Digital Storytelling

As I tried to read the chapter on "Digital Storytelling, Libraries and Community" from the book Libraries 2.0 and Beyond (Courtney, 2007), my mind persisted on drifting to a wonderful example of digital storytelling I assisted with. While working as a Technology Paraprofessional at Merrill Middle School in Denver, CO, part of my job was to assist in the 8th grade "Advanced Technology" class, where students learned to take digital photos and movies, and turn them into music videos using Apple's iMovie. During my second year there, wildfires had swept through the mountain foothills less than an hour from Denver, leaving the beautiful landscape barren and desolate. One science teacher found out that there was grant money available to pay for students to come help re-seed portions devastated by the fire, and she arranged to take nearly the entire 8th grade on this trip. Our tech students brought along digital video and still cameras to record the event. Then they brought their recordings back to school, and in teams of two, created music videos. Then the class voted on the best video, which was then shown to the science teacher and her classes. The fun, hard work, and ultimate transformation of the hillsides on which the students worked were well-documented by these efforts, and I have seldom been prouder of where I've worked. Unfortunately, because of copyright restrictions, we could not allow copies to leave the school, for the students had used popular music from their own collections.
In addition to the re-seeding project, our tech students spent the year taking pictures and video of sporting events, assemblies, classrooms, clubs, staff, employees, and all other aspects of the school. They worked in teams of 3-4 to organize it all into a year-end music video. I watched them putting it together and, not being part of the MTV-watching crowd, was impressed by their work but indifferent to its value. But when the video was played at a year-end assembly for the 8th graders, I saw students and teachers alike with tears in their eyes. It seemed to draw everyone present into a sense of community, of a realization that they were ending a shared journey. When the 12-minute video ended, everyone applauded heartily, and we heard over and over again afterward from students, teachers and staff how much they appreciated it. Even now, almost four-and-a-half years later, just thinking about it moves me deeply.
As the technology for making such presentation has dropped in price and become easier to use, it offers us an opportunity to each tell stories that are meaningful to us. But to what end? Radio and television were once heralded as tools that would benefit all humankind. While they do occasionally inform and educate, these media spend far more time and effort in making money than making the world a better place to live. The Internet has followed suit, though recent changes in the ways people publish are helping put some power back into the hands of individuals. How will we use this power, these tools? To empower, or merely entertain? To help the needy, or hype nonsense? To speak truth to power, or sell tired platitudes? To foster community, or fight change? Our answers and actions matter, more than we may ever know ...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Moments like this ...

I was reading a classmate's blog when something she said caught my eye. Sue (sueparblog) is talking with a friend about finding joy in work:
Then she asked me the question that always plucks at my heart: “Don’t you want to find some way to use your PhD in Russian in your library job?” Ugh. I wrestle with this question constantly. I feel deep pangs of betrayal, even, about it. Why did I spend decades learning Russian and learning about Russian history, culture, etc., if I am not going to use it now to earn a living? I love Russian. I’m good at it. It’s a shame to have acquired fluency in a highly-inflected language and not use it in some external way.

I was reminded of an incident I observed as part of an assignment for my Reference class this past summer, which I used for a comment on Sue's blog, and reproduce here for my classmates to read:
Shortly after an hourly rotation of staff, three people approached the desk. It became apparent that they were three generations of females from the same family – elderly mother, grown daughter, and flame-red-haired granddaughter. The “middle” woman asked the male-librarian at the desk for help in finding English books in Russian. As the librarian was giving her his full attention, she explained that what she meant was books to help someone learn English, written in Russian, as well as easy-to-read books for adults learning English. The older woman wore a headscarf, and dressed simply in ways that reminded the author of the way people dressed in the USSR in January of 1984. To the surprise, delight and relief of all three patrons, the librarian responded by greeting and conversing with the Russian woman in her native language! This had the immediate effect of dissipating the “library anxiety” clearly present in the faces of the patrons. With a warm smile, the librarian rose from his seat, asked one additional clarifying question, and led the cheerful group away in search of resources. Had those same patrons approached a “para-librarian” who had only a high school diploma and fewer life-experiences to draw upon, the reference transaction probably would not have ended on such a high note.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Technology, Money and Time

In 1990, when my wife and I moved to a new city so she could attend graduate school, we learned that if we wanted to buy a computer that would “keep pace” with the changing world of technology, we would have to spend $1,700 – $2,000, and after a couple of years it still needed additional memory. Last December when our computer crashed beyond repair, that is the same price range we had to search in to find a computer that would meet our needs. This parallels my experience with Web 1.0 and Web 2.0, with the cost being time rather than dollars. After spending four days in bed with a fever and a cold a little over a week ago, I am still playing catch-up in all three of my classes. While technology can be very inviting, and all the features of “Web 2.0” are easier to use in many ways than their predecessors, my workload has snowballed, leaving me feeling like Indiana Jones in the Raiders of the Lost Ark movie as he sprints to keep ahead of a giant ball that is about to flatten him. As I read my classmate Judy’s blog, her comment that she “certainly didn’t get as much done as [she] would have liked,” inspired this blog and the similarities noted herein. I enjoy the process of putting together a project, whether it be a website, a video, a slide presentation, or whatever. I want what I am working on to be something I am proud to show others. And the only way to do that is to devote the necessary time to it, a commodity that is clearly in short supply right now. I strive to utilize the time-management skills I learned in the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” workshop I attended years ago. But when I lose substantial time to illness, or other everyday annoyances that technology cannot fix, I have to switch back to off-the-cuff solutions to meet goals and deadlines. And today’s entry was no exception.
Until next time!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Brief detour into geekishness

As I work through my readings and other coursework enroute to my MLS degree, I have heard various authors and bloggers lament the lack of what I would refer to as serendipity in the search process. In the days of the card catalog, a student doing research would determine the general location of books on the topic, and then head to that section of the stacks and search, not only for the book(s) they found, but also for any nearby that could meet the need. The serendipitous nature of the search becomes apparent when the student, unable to find enough resources to satisfy their needs, begins to browse, looking at titles and subjects in the same general area. Books are repeatedly pulled out, flipped through, and then (hopefully) re-shelved, while the searcher looks for materials and information to meet their needs. Our fictitious student may stumble upon a related topic that interests them even more, and has adequate resources to help the student succeed at the given assignment.

Jump forward in time to today, and into the age where students’ first choice for research is the Web. Most library catalog systems lag far behind the tools available on Amazon and Google, where browsers can look at the table of contents and portions of the book online. Tech-savvy librarian writers for ALA and its alphabet-soup mix of sub-groups seem to be calling for libraries to make a jump to an ILS that keeps up with advances young people take for granted. But technology changes so fast that for libraries to catch up is like trying to jump on a moving train while carrying two full-size suitcases without wheels!

Instead, why don’t we try to jump ahead? Or, at least jump to the cutting edge. But which edge? Whatever we jump to, it has to be seamlessly capable of click-and-browse in any direction, and at any level of depth. One new product on the market offers an interface that comes closest to capturing the capability to physically browse while being on the cutting edge: Apple’s newest iPod, the iTouch, and its cousin, the iPhone. Watching the online tour of the iTouch in particular, I was struck by the “album view” capability built into iTunes, the software that plays music and other media. Here is a picture:

Here is one possible place where libraries can jump in, and become both relevant and valuable to the next generation of users. Currently, when someone carrying an iTouch walks into a Starbucks coffee shop, it automatically accesses an electronic “music store,” where patrons can buy the songs they hear over the store’s sound system. Why not offer similar wifi network in libraries? Patrons carrying such a device can walk in, and immediately have the electronic catalog available to them, in the same feature-rich format. Click on a button or icon, and begin a metasearch on a given topic. From the list of items found, patrons can browse the table of contents, or pages within the item by “flipping” through in album-view. If the items listed do not meet the need, the patron can click on hyperlinked terms from controlled vocabulary, and easily tap into even more resources!

I could go on for enough pages for a conference presentation Instead, I challenge any open-minded library student or professional to view one or both of these tours (iTouch or iPhone); as you watch, mentally note how easily many of these features could be transformed into all the disparate, valuable tools and services we offer – metasearching, links to OCLC and ILL, searching subscription databases and the web simultaneously, etc. All of this available in the humble context of flipping through the pages of an electronic, book-like device that patrons already own!
Latté, anyone? ;-)

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Librarianship’s dance with technology.

Since I began working on my MLS degree, I have been learning about and observing the “dance” between librarians and technology. I’ve learned how library professionals were among the earliest groups to grasp the implications of the power of the computer to make their work easier and more efficient. Those early pioneers of technology diligently strove to learn the “steps” for each new dance and partner, from character-based systems up to today’s graphic user interfaces (GUI). Now, with the evolution of the web from a venue for presentation of skilled craftspersons, to a platform for creative expression and self-publication, librarians have a wealth of new dances and partners to choose from. The necessity of “dancing” regularly with one’s partner(s) at work – ILS, WorldCat, and others from the alphabet soup of familiar “faces” – need not dampen the fun and excitement of spending every spare moment learning how to “dance” the “FaceBook”. As I read magazines, blogs and books praising every new technology, it seems that some librarians (often, but not exclusively younger) flit, whirl and leap from one partner to another, building an enormous repertoire of steps and experiences that would leave a less-savvy person exhausted and dizzy. If one changes partners quickly and frequently enough, it appears as though it would be easy to ignore the shortcomings – smashed toes, bruised shins, etc. – of each dance and partner.

But in the excitement of all that’s new, it is very important to stop and take the time to find out if there are undesirable aspects to these new technologies that are subtle, and unobtrusive. Dancers (in my experience, mostly women) have had to put up with, or walk away from, inappropriate touch and behavior from their dance partners (in my experience, mostly men). When a group of individuals join a dance, it can influence the quality and mood of the entire activity. Does welcoming such a large group of new dance partners to the library “dance party” enrich the experience for our patrons and us, or detract from it? I do not intend to promote any form of conspiracy theory here, but companies exist that do “data mining,” the gathering of large amounts of information about as many people as possible. If “knowledge is power,” as the saying goes, what personal power are we giving away when we make ourselves so intimately known to all of these different forms of technology? In another situation, would we choose to make available to any number of strangers the same information/power about ourselves? Knowing the answers to these questions is critical, and will help us to determine whether the excitement of dancing with a new partner is worth the risk.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Working with new technology

My instructor, Dr. Ball, is having us blog weekly as an assignment for class. I have yet to directly address the reasons for this blog, so this week I will. Her instructions read:

Every week I want you to write a 300 word blog posting, basically a journal entry, about what you are feeling about working with technology: what it is like to be trying something new, how technology makes you feel, working as part of a team, not knowing what you should be doing, etc. Do you get the idea? I want you to reflect on all aspects of this experience except the service learning piece. My primary goal, besides having you become more confident bloggers, is to have you develop a better understanding of how library patrons or staff may feel when encountering new technologies.
First, working with new technology, I feel a loss of artistic potential and control. When I was in charge of web page design at work in both the public and private sectors, I invested a great deal of time and energy learning how to make web pages appear the way I wanted them to. The places I worked could not afford expensive, powerful software packages (Dreamweaver, etc.), so I mostly hand-coded the websites I created. This allowed for unlimited tinkering to get the page just right, and when I succeeded, I felt a great sense of success and satisfaction. The variety of page design options is endless and inviting, and with just a few lines of CSS code, one can produce amazing results. For an example, check out the CSS Zen Garden: The Beauty in CSS Design. Here, graphic artists create some fantastic web page designs by changing only the cascading style sheets.
Now, I have to start all over again, learning a new technology, and doing it as part of a team. I am nervous about having other people depending on me while I am learning; I am a bit of a perfectionist, and loathe disappointing others. In addition, the artistic potential of this effort seems diminished in some way. It feels like trying to paint a picture with a paintbrush that has a 3-ft. long handle, and multiple people holding on. The result has the potential to be appealing, but I fear it will lack the detail of a landscape painting that I prefer. And using terms such as “mashups” gives no additional reason for optimism.

On the flip side, new technologies such as blogs, wikis, and the like, have the potential to be accessible to more people. The simple interfaces and tools can allow anyone with access to contribute meaningfully to the great “information commons” that the Internet can become. And by taking it under the “wing” of the library profession, we can raise the standard of quality to a level we find acceptable. But libraries are being squeezed between shrinking budgets, and increasing demand for electronic access to services. Despite our best efforts, there continues to be a growing “digital divide” between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” And as current economic policies and practices continue to widen the gap between rich and poor, it will only make things worse. So what do we do? Where does our professional role end, and advocacy begin?

My thanks to Judy Kemp's blog, An Evergreen Tree of Diabolical Knowledge, for this week’s blog idea.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Subtle Challenges for Our Profession

Blog Posting 4

Recently, I was scanning recent postings on The Shifted Librarian’s blog, and one in particular caught my eye. She referred to Karin Dalziel’s Chart of 4 Types of Information Literacy on a blog I’d not heard of, Musings of an LIS Student. For a class assignment, Ms. Dalziel tries to differentiate between four types of literacy:

Information Literacy
Media Literacy
Digital Literacy

She carefully delineates the pros and cons of each form in a table, and comes across as clearly preferring Digital Literacy. While Ms. Dalziel has clearly given this a lot of thought, only Information Literacy has evaluation as part of its primary activity. A brief memory of a previous class springs to mind as an example of the importance of this activity:

In the late 1980’s, as part of my coursework in Early Childhood Education at the U of MN (Minneapolis), I was required to take “Intro to Human Relations,” even though I already had a B.A. in Psychology. One section of the class covered critical viewing of popular media, and the subtle messages it conveys. I remember a slide (not PowerPoint, just a regular photographic film slide) the lecturer showed of a perfume ad. A woman, dressed in an expensive evening gown and wearing makeup, is seated with her body facing to the right of the frame, but her head and shoulders are turned so she is looking behind her to her right. A shadow (apparently male) looms over her shoulder, and the look on the woman’s face is not one of pleasure, but of fear. This ad, we were told, came from a popular beauty/fashion magazine for women!

Since I grew up in a family of four brothers, I had no understanding of the subtle violence in popular media, and was shocked and appalled upon learning of it. (I was already keenly aware of the popular media’s use of women as sex-objects, and men as success-objects.) Now, with the blatant use of profanity and misogynist language popularized by rappers and other “stars,” are we too desensitized to recognize the insidious forms of violence in the media?

As librarians, how can we encourage our patrons to critically evaluate the abundant resources we are oh, so proud, to offer? Some say we are not supposed to judge or rate materials. Free and equal access to information is an ideal we strive to reach in our profession, and I will uphold that standard when I finish library school. Yet some of those same digital and print items have content that tacitly sanctions violence against women, and libraries are staffed overwhelmingly by women. So what do we do? Where does our professional role end, and advocacy begin?

"He explained to me with great insistence that every question possessed a power that did not lie in the answer." -- from Night by Elie Wiesel

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Digitally Present?

In reading my email from this past week, I noted one article about a survey that blogger Meredith Farkas conducted of people in the “blogosphere.” According to her survey, “Library bloggers are more likely to be women, 40 years old or younger, living in a large urban area in the Midwest or Northeast, who possess an MLS but no other advanced degree, and work in a medium or large academic or large public library.” (AL Direct, 9/5/2007). Having grown up in the 60’s & 70’s, I always thought that anything “geeky,” i.e. related to computers and technology, would be dominated by males. Perhaps it is the more expressive nature of the blog as a medium that appeals to women. If anyone is reading my blog, do you have any thoughts on why blogging is so popular with women?
Most of the other demographics did not surprise me very much. Access to the Internet is better and cheaper in the large, urban areas, and the larger libraries, both academic and public, have the funding base to afford the staffing levels that will allow this activity. I was slightly surprised that the 31-40 year age range was the largest. Being new to this aspect of computer technology, I thought that bloggers would come from the next-younger group, the twenty-somethings. In Jenny Levine’s blog, The Shifted Librarian, she created a library-related version of Beloit College’s Mindset List for the class of 2011. In it, she offers “a few broad strokes” for reexamination of library services. Her comment that the newest college students “think in 160-character chunks” is telling, and a wake-up call to all of us who aspire to make knowledge and information freely available. If these young people are as terse in their thinking as in their communications, then when they seek out our services (online or in-person), will they bypass resources that are thoughtful and well reasoned in favor of quick and easy answers? And how thoughtful and well reasoned are their responses to life’s challenges? Finally, how can we, as librarians, stretch and tease-out the deeper parts of these people, the ones we will have to rely upon in our old age?
When I was in high school in the late 1970's, we were all required to read the book 1984 by George Orwell. In it, "Big Brother," the government that watched everyone, was aggressively destroying language by cutting it to the bare minimum. Who needs a government to do this when our gadgets will teach us to do it, all in the name of keeping in touch? In the September 2007 issue of ALA's American Libraries, Joseph Janes writes "Your location doesn't matter as much as your presence." In phone conversations one can be "present" for another, and the recipient can tell because of our tone of voice, our silences, and other non-verbal forms of communication. We can infer the same level of presence in electronic communications, but we cannot be as sure that the friend(s) on the other end are listening as intently as we would like. Is digital "presence" as truly intimate as physical "presence?" Only as much as a postcard is like a hike through the giant redwoods of California.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Reflections on Libraries and Social Networks

I am surprised to find myself out of the technology advocate role, and in the seat of the questioner. Maybe it comes from having spent nearly a year working for a dying local business. Maybe it comes from having just completed my Evaluation of Library Sources and Services class. (Maybe I’m just getting old and cranky like my Hoosier grandfather did at an early age.) Whatever the reason, I’ve rediscovered the feeds I subscribed to via Bloglines, and found a posting on the InfoBlog that has my inner critic rubbing his hands together with glee.
Justin Perkins at has created an online ROI (return on investment) calculator for social network campaigns:

Wonder if you should spend your time campaigning in social networks?

You can use this tool to calculate an estimate of cost and return on investment for the recruitment and fundraising efforts of your staff in social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace. It works sort of like an online mortga
ge calculator. Just enter the starting assumptions in the yellow boxes below and the tool calculates results automatically.

Playing with the amounts in the yellow boxes, it appears that if you just change the Average Direct Donation per friend, each friend would have to donate at least $439 just to break even! And that would not happen until the fourth year! While that assumes a very low donation rate of 0.10%, it does not appear unrealistic. Social networks seem to grow very quickly, if not exponentially. In a study released in July 2007, comScore detailed how Facebook, when it opened its services to the general public in September 2006, saw the number of users grow from 14 million to 26.6 million by May 2007. Since participants can be anywhere in the world, only a very small fraction of a group of “friends” may actually be local. In addition, one must ask how many of those are in a place to make financial contributions of a substantial size. In an earlier study (comScore, October 2006), also by comScore, the authors note:

Visitors to and generally skew older, with people age 25 and older comprising 68 and 71 percent of their user bases, respectively. Meanwhile, has a younger user profile, with 20 percent of its users in the 12-17 age range, about twice as high as that age segment’s representation within the total Internet audience.

Clearly, if we as librarians are to justify time and effort involving libraries in social networks, we must bring the same critical evaluation skills used in selecting traditional library materials (books, etc.) to bear upon this process. What is the goal of becoming involved with X social network? How will we know we are successful? How can we measure this? (Thank you, Dr. Applegate!) Once we get past the “Wow!” of the next new thing, we must ask “How?” and “Why?”.

Web 2.0 and the important questions

(Originally posted Tuesday, 8/28/2007 on my other, activist blog.)

I found this on AL Direct, dated August 22, 2007:

In this future scenario, you could go mall shopping with a gang of friends during a lunch break, even while you remain miles apart. In reality, you'd all be pinned to your work terminals, but on that screen you would be transported to a digital replica of the shopping center. As you walk by a sale at a virtual jeans store, Web cameras in the real store let you see how crowded it actually is, in case a popular item is selling out. Your avatar, set to your body's measurements, tries on the jeans and spins around to show them to your pals. You might buy the pants online or visit the physical store later. Either way, you'd have had a fun afternoon without leaving your cubicle.

What is so wrong with this world that we need to create a virtual one? Wouldn’t it be better to fix the one we have? While “Web 2.0” may be a useful way to delineate the qualitative changes in the way the Web is being used, scenarios like the one listed above raise red flags for me. Whether it is “Library 2.0” or “Web 2.0,” some underlying assumptions need to be examined. As with every new product or technology, the proponents tout all the things it can do, and all the benefits it will provide. The unspoken assumption is that everyone has access to these advances, and the ability to learn to use them effectively. This is simply not true: the “digital divide” is growing, perhaps even faster than the levels of economic disparity, in this country. Technology without compassion becomes just another tool for creating a gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” O’Reilly’s article suggests a number of criteria to use in evaluating whether or not something is truly “Web 2.0." I suggest that librarians, with their dedication to serving the needs of others, ask of any new advances:

  • What assumptions do the proponents of this technology make about such things as access and ability to pay?
  • Who has the most to gain from this new technology, especially in terms of power and money?
  • Who will lose money and/or power with these changes?

If we are not careful, we will continue to isolate ourselves in our cocoon of technology from the painful truths of Real Life 1.0, such as poverty, abuse, neglect, violence, corruption, and injustice.