Info Breaker

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I can’t wait to work at this library. Routine, mundane and boring — that’s what I’m talking about!

Social Networking Literacy

Every once and while, a series of posts from different blogs, related or unrelated, will converge to form a coherent thought in my head. One worth blogging about, I mean.

Library Garden, normally a crack blog on using social networking tools and how to use them in libraries, posted this a few days ago, in relation to a post about “Sexy Librarians of the Future” at ReadWriteWeb. Actually, there are a litany of good responses, but this got me thinking:

Reading Marshall Kirkpatrick’s post made me wonder how well the average librarian would do if asked to help someone embed a video and catalog, er, I mean tag it, digg it, furl it, stumbleupon it, or otherwise advise on how to make the information discoverable.

Aren’t these also information literacy issues?

No criticism of anyone intended here, but as a real live librarian who works at a real live library answering real live information desk questions, let’s go through what I’ve been asked today:

My mother has this painting and I can’t find it in any art book. I plan on “googling” it when I get it home, but do you have any special databases that might have it? (For the record, I also “googled” it and found nothing).

How do I sign up for a computer? (several times)

Do you have any books with pictures of flowers that I can paint still lifes from?

Where are the resume templates?

Do you have anything on Howard Hughes?

I would like the most recent issue of Consumer Reports on kitchens? (With a couple of other CR questions).

Where are the back issues of Newsweek?

Nothing here that I could answer with how to post something to You Tube, or MySpace, or Facebook.

Indeed, that is the other problem with ReadWrite’s view of “information literacy”. Yesterday, information literacy was having a MySpace account. Today it’s a Facebook application. What, you’re still on Facebook? Virb is the new thing, duh.

Information Literacy is not about knowing which social networking tool du jour is the new thing. It’s not about knowing Web 2.0 tools, search engines or the Reader’s Guide. Will those tools help you get the job done? Perhaps. Should I have, or am I even capable of having, accounts on and knowing the ins and outs of MySpace, Facebook, Digg, StumbleUpon, del.icio.us, Library Thing, etc? Probably not.

Perhaps we just need to wait for this space to shake itself out. Much like the Reader’s Guide became to standard in print periodicals searching, YouTube may become the standard in sharing low quality flash videos of your song and dance routine. Maybe.

Until then, however, librarianship remains much more boring than that. Teaching people how to sign up for an email account is about at “Web 2.0” as my job gets. I’d rather focus on what continue to be core library skills, knowledge of your physical and digital collections to answer real life reference questions and get people real life resources.

Maybe I’m not at the right library.

As Jessamyn so eloquently put it:

Working on the web isn’t just about collecting real and/or imaginary friends and new interactive ways of sharing photos of your cat, it’s also about saving real time and real money so that you can do real things in your offline world.

I think we should apply this to libraries, not just Web 2.0.

So I went to the Doctor…

…and I said “Doctor, it hurts when I do this.” And the doctor said, “Stop doing that!”

I read Web4Lib on a regular basis and there’s some great content and very helpful people on there.

But every time someone cross posts from other lists they say “Sorry for cross-posting” or “Please excuse the cross posting.”

If they are so sorry they should… stop cross posting!

It is, of course, not just web4lib. Customers, coworkers and every guy on the street seems to think as long as they feel a little bit guilty about doing something, they can go ahead and do it anyway. I’m sure I’m just as guilty as the next person, but it does return me to my point about putting limits on Library 2.0.

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Book Making Machines

I read about this book making kiosk via LISNews and all I could think was “I can’t wait to have one.”

If you’ve ever read The Long Tail— and if you haven’t, you should–, he forwards an excellent argument for on-demand publishing being the future of the industry. It eliminates all sorts of issues, including the fact the publishers absorb the cost of bookstores over-purchasing an item by offering refunds for books the store did not sell. Libraries, unfortunately, don’t have this luxury. We have to anticipate demand. Over-purchase and be stuck with too many of a book no one wants to read, under-purchase and people are unhappy that they cannot have their book in a timely manner. What if someone didn’t have to wait for their copy of Harry Potter to come in? We could just spit off a quick copy and hand it to them for a fraction of the cost of buying 30 hardcovers.

I imagine that this model will become the de-facto for libraries in the future. The problem that library customers have now is not necessarily people being able to find the resources they want, lots of sophisticated tools exist for that, but getting those resources in their hands. Imagine if a whole class had to read Moby Dick and the library’s three copies are gone. Just print off more and meet everyone’s demand. No more trying to anticipate volume or making people wait for bestsellers, just pay for each copy you create and everyone is happy.

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Book Club

The first rule of book memes is that you do not talk about book memes.

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Dispatches from the User Interface Edge

I’ve done some thinking over the last few days about user interfaces and how new users might interact with them. I was spurred on by two things. One, this article on the widespread misuse of the mouse and by my 80 year old gradmother’s recent acquisition of her first computer.

For example, people who are new to the computer want to memorize a proccess rather than digest the meaning of a “program”, a “shortcut” or a search. She knows, for example, that the blue “e” gets her to the internet and that you then click in the Google search field to look for something. Trying to explain web mail to her would be a disaster because she seperates “Internet” and “E-mail.”

I’m sure you can think of occasions where you have memorized proccesses rather than meaning. Think for a moment about how you drive a car. You know that pushing in the clutch and turning the ignition key will start it, but what if your starter is bad? Did you know that by pushing the car down the hill you can get the drive train spinning fast enough to engage and start the engine when you let go of the clutch? Do you even know what happens when you push down on or release the clutch?

I’m curious, then, how intuitive user interfaces actually are. Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) are the defacto model for ease of use but are they really easy to use? Obviously not for my grandmother, who had trouble with the relationship between mouse and keyboard (she would place the mouse in a text field to type, for example). A Command Line Interface (CLI) would allow her to memorize commands that do certain things. Seems much more intuitive to me.

Being responsible for training library staff and sometimes library patrons I see very similar behaviors. Attempting to explain abstract concepts like programs (which have execultables and lots of supporting files) is much more difficult than simply placing shortcuts to important programs right on the desktop or bookmarking important sites (job searches, games, etc). Heaven forbid we upgrade and accessing the resume templates becomes a different proccess.

Is this true of a more connected generation? Are teens and twenty somethings capable of grasping abstract concepts better than older people?

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Why do we still have an OPAC?

Recently, my consortium’s OPAC User Group had what I can only call a “bitchfest” about the state of our OPAC. It seems like all the complaints just started to come out of the woodwork, this doesn’t work or that hasn’t been fixed or I’ve had this ticket open since forever. It was actually sort of painful to put yourself in the shoes of the OPAC’s staff.

Later, someone sent an email about a different subject that repeatedly praised the benefits of using WorldCat over our own online catalog.

So I put A and B together.

Why are we still using our own search interfaces? If Google, WorldCat, or insert-web-2.0-solution here is so much better why do we keep purchasing online catalog modules from closed source vendors that we hate?

Open WorldCat would seem to have it all. Lots of libraries combined in one interface. Easily narrowing by subject, language or format and even a limited review and tagging module. Why don’t libraries just all upload their data into a central place where it can be formatted by people who know more about this stuff than we do?

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Filtering as Creating Equal Access

Via Thoughts from a Library Administrator I read Cory Doctorow’s recent column on Internet filtering being ineffective and though 697 words can hardly enumerate a well thought out argument, I must take issue with what I view as a knee jerk reaction to the 1st Amendment.

The first thing I’d like to say is that I, in principle, disagree with filtering. Of course, I disagree in principle censoring any type of speech, but we do it every day. Just as I would not let a customer quietly curse to themselves because it bothers the customer sitting next to them, I would not let them display graphic nudity on the screen so a person walking by can get a glance at it. Making it an issue of access to information is like making the removal of someone carrying a gun into the library and issue of gun control. The person holding the gun is not hurting anyone, but they create an atmosphere that is not inviting to the public.

In a previous post I made a similar argument, that the person standing in front of you is not the only person you have to provide good customer service to. Every time someone returns a book late, demands something contrary to library policy (which is written to ensure equitable access) or generally makes life difficult for library staff, preventing them from assisting other customers, they infringe on other’s access to information.

Censoring is, unfortunatly, a reality of creating a welcoming environment. Internet policies in a place like Rochester are written to protect customers by enforcing social norms. Are those norms right or wrong? I don’t know, but the community has set them regardless.

Enforcing the policy is the real issue here. We automate sign-up for public access computers so staff doesn’t have to walk around kicking people off when they’ve exceeded their time. We automate check out so we don’t have to file and maintain complicated records on who has what items. Why don’t we automate enforcing our acceptable usage policies as well?

Is it perfect? Of course not, but no policy, person or software can be perfect. The filter can be turned off but a hostile environment can’t.

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Have Your People Call My People

I decided I would give in and do a vanity search and it’s pretty much what I expected. Except…

I’ve been cited! Twice!

Walt Crawford has listed my post “The Boundaries of Library 2.0” as a reference in his new book Balanced Libraries and a paper (pdf) I wrote oh so long ago showed up in someone elses (pdf).

That’s right, I’m big time.

I Rock, blogging, citation

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Tastefully Censorsing

A link (registration required, ugg) from LISNews about librarians wailing at the decline of the library into popular pandering.

Two copies of Jackass!? Say it ain’t so!

While we’re at it, lets get rid of all the Nora Roberts those librarians might be reading in their spare time. And those boring Charles Dickins’ novels? Burn ’em.

Censorship by any other name stinks as much.

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