The things I will miss about Open Library

I put it on my newsletter and up on TILT (my online magazine? Whatever that is) but I left my job at Open Library this week. This is bittersweet since I left because I could not get the hours to pay me for all the work that needs doing there. I was paid for ten, looking for (at least) twenty.

Open Library is a bit of a singular beast. They lend ebooks worldwide for free. It’s a grand experiment that’s so far been going pretty well. I like using it because I can search for keywords inside of millions of books and because their reading interface is one of the best there is. I use their public domain books to find illustrations for the talks I give (either on the site or from these five million images on Flickr) and shared out some of my favorites on their Twitter account. So now that I’m not doing that, I can share out some stuff I find here…

Like a neat-looking bookplate, and then doing some research to figure out whose it was. And learning a thing as a result. Here is a bookplate that pointed me towards knowing more about Robert Lowie an early social anthropologist. The book it’s in is actually a book about old books and so has some great illustrations.

Ex Libris Robert Lowie, image of native american man in headdress

I’ll also miss learning more about librarianship as it was once practiced. This Union class-list of the libraries of the Library and Library Assistants’ Associations looks fascinating and yet I’m not even totally sure what it is. Its companion book, the Bibliography of library economy is 400 pages of Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature type of things only for libraries. I’d almost be reading it for fun but I couldn’t help picking out a few keywords and browsing.

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As library topics remain prevalent in the news, everyone likes to thing that being good at Google makes them a proto-librarian. But the longstanding traditions of this institution are more than just finding things. It’s so much more about linking people to the information they want. Every book its reader. Every reader their book. I’m 100% down with digital librarianship being an efficient and effective way to do this, I just need to orient myself to doing that work in more of an actual digital library.

Screen Shot 2016-11-25 at 16.21.13

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Idea for now: Library Freedom Playbook

(note: this idea is not mine, I am merely running with it after it was mentioned on a mailing list I am on)

riki tiki tavi illustration

In these weird times where people are very unsure who to trust and even less sure how to feel about the government, the Library Freedom Playbook should exist and doesn’t. We have a few directions where we should be highlighting the important role of libraries.

1. The library is authoritative
2. The library is safe
3. The library is also the government

The last message is tricky. Many if not most public libraries are municipal organizations. The library is for everyone in the good ways that government is supposed to be but increasingly is not. Blind hatred/fear of government can keep people from getting services they deserve. We need a nuanced message here. I am aware this is not simple.

It’s important to get things ranging from EFFs advice which is useful but not always practical for an average person, to stuff like “Hey print this zine and give it to kids!”

Things like Tor are a huge deal for libraries because the libraries can do the work one time but ALL the patrons benefit. Raising awareness for libraries why this is useful is part of it (like Library Freedom Project). Giving talks that outline practical approachable solutions that aren’t overwhelming. Building plug-ins for common software like Chrome, WordPress, Firefox and common ILSes.

I remember when there was some weird post-9/11 concerns about certain publications from govdocs organizations being possibly “dangerous” and tried to recall them and then-head of Boston Public Library Bernie Margolis basically “letter of the law” complied (took them out of govdocs) but “spirit of the law” did not (put them in circulating collections). That highlights what high profile librarian actions can also
do for morale in addition to access, both of which are important parts of this.

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Upcoming events and reflections on newsletters

I’ve spread myself a little thin. Which is not at all bad but it’s been an interesting few months to try to sort out what goes where. This blog has been going since April of 1999. Since that time I’ve gotten socially active in a number of other places, notably Twitter and Facebook. I usually use that for real-time keeping current, event notifications and back channel discussions with peers. This space has always been for longer-form link sharing and essays as well as a central repository of all of my talks, FAQ and other things. When I’m busy sometimes it’s just a linkdump and I had started a few tentative posts just titled TILT for Today in Librarian Tabs. Then I started thinking they might be better off as a newsletter and so TILT-Y Mail was born. Please feel free to subscribe if you like that sort of thing (by typing your email in the box). You can read past issues and see if it’s your cup of tea. Or if you’re the sort of person who uses the Medium platform, I have a version which is over there. I write one 500-750 word essay a week, on Fridays.

What this means, though, is that this blog space is unclear. It’s sort of for essays, sort of for personal announcements, sort of for events. I didn’t talk much about the Librarian of Congress swearing-in ceremony which was last week, even though that may be the biggest things that’s happened in librarianship in my professional career. Next week is Banned Books Week where I always write something up, our goofy flawed holiday.

And coming up there is some stuff going on in my professional life.

I like having a newsletter. I like having a blog. I seem to have enough time to (mostly) maintain both but I do spend a lot more time cross-linking between my various streams than I used to. I think my next article for Computers in Libraries magazine will be about newsletters.

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the problem with digitally divided government

 saying "democracy begins with you, get out there" in from of local high school

[another edited post from a mailing list discussing digitally divided citizens. Some people were reflecting that their elected officials don’t remember being offline. In Vermont we have a different issue]

In Vermont where, at least where I live, ​our elected officials are themselves digitally divided and so can’t always make good choices for the populations they serve. So issues like:

  • What does a good website look like?
  • What is a “normal” way to use email?
  • What is reasonable to expect people to do technologically in 2016?

Are all determined by people who do not have much of an idea of the normative expectations in the space and who have to make decisions about those things. So to these three points…

  1. We have Vermont Health Connect debacle, very expensive and costing the state a hundred million dollars. People managing the program didn’t recognize that a website without a LOGIN button was actually not a good website (among other things). I’ve written up my feelings at length here.
  2. My state representative shares an email address with her husband, that is her only point of electronic contact. They’re both lovely people, but they’re not just citizens, they are sort of like role models and this is not a good tech lifestyle to model. Our local local library has a privacy policy to account for couples or even families with shared email addresses. Which is sort of good, people deserve privacy, but also bending over backwards so people don’t have to get themselves an email address which is normative in 2016.
  3. I serve on a town board. We get notifications for dates and times of our meetings in postal mail.​ We receive all of our documents in postal mail. This is inconvenient and wasteful (in both time and resources) but our town clerk is not that tech savvy and this works for her and the majority of the board. It won’t change until she retires.

Vermont recently changed their Open Meeting laws to tell towns with websites they needed to put notes from government meetings online within a few days of the meeting happening. Some towns opted to take down their website because they felt compliance would be too onerous. And all of these decisions happen at a town by town level.

People without a good understanding of the tech ecosystem are vulnerable to people who want to sell them things and can’t properly evaluate what they are being sold. I spend a lot of time just outlining what “normal” is to people and then getting a lot of aggravated “Well this way has always worked for us, kids today and all their electronic gadgets…!” pushback. So we do need to attack the problem of the digital divide from both (all) sides.

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there are multiple digital divides, still

(cross-posted from an email list I am on)

> I’d be very interested in helping to support (or start) a research project
> that more critically investigates the state of the digital divide in
> communities and see how that compares with the more recent digital divide
> stats we’ve been sharing.

I’ve maintained in the past that the gap is shifting but not really that much. The big deal seems to be that we want/need things that are quantifiable and we’re getting further into the mess of qualitative concerns with people and their internet access/usage. From a library perspective it’s looked like this….

People don’t have expensive computers – we helped this with access to tech from the Gates Foundation and some maintenance/upkeep assistance from WebJunction/others
People don’t have broadband – E-rate and consortium level pricing has closed this gap, nearly every public library in the US offers some form of broadband
People don’t have real broadband – this is still an open issue but it’s being worked on. In rural VT where I live I’ve seen my maximum-possible internet speed increase gradually while the amount necessary to use the internet takes leaps. More libraries offer gigabit connections.

The qualitative gaps I am seeing are more troubling​ in a sort of internet mythmaking way​

People say mobile broadband = broadband – this is a culture thing (because people who sell you mobile want you to believe this) and more than anything this is not true for homework and should be aggressively pushed back against​ while we still try to increase people’s mobile access​
People say a phone is a computer – again, mobile is GREAT but having a phone gives you a much smaller range of creative options than a computer​,​
and people need to be clear about that (and not say we’re solving digital divide issues giving kids phones/tablets​, we’re eklping but just shifting the goalposts​)
People​ are afraid/stubborn/traditional – they ​have a level of timididy with technology (this is often ​o​lder people where I live​ but not always​) which keeps them from using technology to solve their own problems.

This, to me, is the real digital divide in 2016. They have to pay someone for help, they don’t have the money, the​y​ don’t have options because their communities do not have this level of free tech knowledge available. They are vulnerable to people trying to sell them things. ​They are vulnerable to relying on “closed” communities like​​ facebook to do everything online. ​ Media only heightens this anxiety​ and makes them feel at risk,​ and phishing and other scams increasingly targeted towards them amplify this issue.

So if you’re going to address the knowledge/empowerment/inclusion gap you often get into less-quantifiable areas. Which means less money for studies and/or fewer vendors willing to foot the bill since the answers are rarely going to be “Just make a new website to help these people!” and more often “ISPs need to create better tools to help people resist threats and make their systems more secure, but not at the expense if alienating people” I look at gmail and some of the basic things they built in (phishing alerts, hiding all the huge cc lines in email, very user-friendly login screens and help files) and then the things they didn’t (large text and or high contrast versions, “low fi” versions for older users with accessibility issues) and I feel like some pushes in the right direction can get better UX layered on top of decently functioning technology and it helps a lot with the empowerment divide we’re seeing.

tl;dr I’d be happy to help with a project like this.

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