I’ve been refining my library talks lately. The one I’ve given a few times over the past year has to do with the 15% of Americans who still don’t use the internet (no phone, no home internet, no work internet, nothing). How do we work on this issue? Part of the good news is that the new Lifeline Program guidelines from the FCC do include “digital inclusion” (that is, making sure people can use the tools not just have access to them) as part of what the program is supposed to accomplish. This is good. And people have access via their libraries. This is also good. But some of what needs doing is creating a safe place where people can learn technology without being harassed by messages of hazards and pitfalls and social gaffes, often perpetuated by people trying to sell you something. And this messaging starts with us, librarians and educators and people who see these 15% as part of our daily lives. Positive messaging is more important than we give it credit for. This talk goes into detail about ways to do that and important things to think about in our own speech.
I have a bunch of little jobs and I think a lot of people don’t really know what it is that I do. My main jobs are doing Drop-In Time in my small town in Central Vermont, helping people borrow ebooks via Open Library and writing for Computers in Libraries magazine. I also fill in at my local library, do some public speaking once or twice a month usually locally, and I do a lot of volunteer work for the Vermont Library Association, for my town and for Ask MetaFilter. I thought it would be fun if I outlined what a week in my life looks (looked) like and #NLW16 seems like a good time to do that. This is the stuff I did this week which is library/technology/work related, for me.
Sunday – the start of NLW! I did some pre-gaming with some fun Twitter posts (Ghostbusters pinball! Ancient maps!) I helped a friend prepare to transition her website from plain old HTML to something WordPress-y. I sent out an update to the VLA news about the Passport Program and updated some of the web pages that went along with that project on the VLA website. I posted this essay, a speech written in 1909 about the economic value of libraries. Answered about 60 emails for Open Library.
Monday – I had an interview with someone writing an article about the Internet Archive. I made arrangements to give a talk at the Vermont Library Conference. I answered a library school student’s 14 question email about my chosen profession. I helped get a poster online and did some social media promotion for the Intellectual Freedom Committee of VLA’s annual lecture. I helped make up a form for reporting materials challenges in Vermont libraries and sent it around to people for proofreading. I set up this week’s mailing for our local music hall (via MailChimp) and sent it back for proofreading. I worked at the public library to fill in for a librarian who had an emergency meeting. I got to work in the children’s room for a few hours which was delightful. I checked out The World’s Strongest Librarian to read later. I helped my landlady post something to my neighborhood mailing list and she gave me a cookie. Answered about 20 emails for Open Library.
Tuesday – I sent out the music hall mailing to 3000 people and I posted the Challenge Reporting form online. I spoke to someone from another tech center about doing a Drop-In Time program there. The problem, as always, is money. The program costs $2500/year which I know isn’t a ton, but it is with local budgets. I solicited the local school to donate some photocopying to the Passport Program on my way in to Drop-In Time. At Drop-In time I taught a woman to use YouTube (she’d never seen it before, fun!), helped someone else partially recover her email password and helped a guy decide whether to keep or return the laptop he’d just bought from Amazon (not sure what he decided but I think I gave him some good information). Came home to email around to the Passport Committee to try to find a time we can meet to assemble 1000+ passports in the next few weeks. Encouraged everyone to work on getting donations for prizes for the program. Started writing my article for Computers in Libraries and started working on my talk for URI next week. Offered to help someone in a small town with educating people in her town about AirBnB (there’s a political issue but few folks even understand what AirBnB is much less how it operates)
Wednesday – I did a lot of finalizing of the Passport to Vermont’s Libraries program including getting the website and sign-up form finalized and starting the publicity angle. I inquired about teaching HTML/Web Dev again at VTC in the Fall (I don’t really know if this is a job I HAVE or if this is a job I have to ask about every year). I passed around links to an article that I wrote on moss (you heard me) for a friend’s blog. I gave feedback to the Digital Inclusion Fellow who is spearheading Digital Inclusion Day for the National Digital Inclusion Alliance and gave some feedback on their website for this one-day event. I tweeted a thing and retweeted a thing about the Library of Congress. I helped a friend email advice about copyright for an article she’d written that someone wanted to reprint. I emailed with the VLA Webmaster about some changes I made to the VLA website. I learned to use WordPress’s pagebuilder tools to make a button. I am very pleased about my button.
Thursday – This was going to be the day I worked more on my article but instead I wound up writing an email to the libraries who were involved in the Passport Program last year (which involved committee sign-off, etc) and did some planning to table at the Vermont Library Conference and hand out passports. We talked about maybe trying to hand one out to each Vermont Congressperson. I also answered 20-ish emails for Open Library, made some plans to maybe go to a Library Leaders Forum in San Francisco in October. While I was out for a walk I stopped in at a friend’s who was fixing computer issues and I helped him get signed up for a gmail account. He received his first ever text message while I was there (verifying his phone number) and we talked about some other tech issues. His wife is doing a solo sailing trip in the summertime and they want to stay in touch via Skype but they both have to make sure they know how to use it first. Then I went out to pub trivia where my team beat the other teams by HALF A POINT. I like to think it’s because I knew about Kurt Wallander that made the difference. Read some more of The World’s Strongest Librarian. Started trying to find a WordPress plugin that can do a sidebar calendar for this site. Posted a book I’d finished reading to my booklist.
Friday – Today I finished writing my article on cybersecurity which cribs heavily on the last post I made. Submitted it over email after emailing it around to get some feedback. We got word that we found a print shop which will print the Passport to VT Libraries for free which is great news. Lots of emails about that. Also decided to create a Facebook Event for the livestreamed nomination hearings of Dr. Carla Hayden (on 4/20) so I did that via the VLA facebook account and posted it to the Facebook pages of every state library association in the country. Phew. Also checked the VLA email inbox since our usual social media person is at DPLAFest. Posted a job to the website. Did some back and forth with the University of Hawai’i (where I am teaching an online class next month) because I had written something wrong on my I-9 form which means I have to go back to the notary and get it fixed. Went to the post office and mailed a copy of my book to my alma mater’s library which, inexplicably, does not have a copy. Talked to folks at the Internet Archive about sending a letter of support in for Dr. Hayden (you can too!). Read and tweeted out an article on Daily Kos by a cataloger explaining why the push by one Tennessee Congressperson to get the Library of Congress to change the subject heading back to “illegal immigrant” is totally wrongheaded. Sent my boss some fundraising ideas so we can maybe pay for drop-in time next year. Emailed a friend visiting Georgia about some librarians he might like to meet there. Worked on my slides for my URI talk. Read an article in the Atlantic about library visit numbers going down which raised more questions than answers and discussed it on Facebook with Heather Braum. Finished writing this.
I’m taking the day “off” tomorrow to celebrate a neighbor’s second birthday, have lasagna with friends, and then drive down to MA before my URI talk on Monday. So for all intents and purposes this concludes my National Library Week. How was yours?
[this is a transcript of an email I sent to someone doing cybersecurity+libraries research]
There are two ways in which libraries could be doing a lot better in the realm of cybersecurity. And I should note, I work for rural libraries and digitally divided patrons for the most part so a lot of my ideas are on human scale but there are a lot of good ideas in the larger scale about just encrypting and anonymizing data but they’re sort of the same as they would be for any big business.
1. Being better at patron privacy re: cybersecurity. So if we offer patron privacy in terms of what they’re reading (and we do, in the US this is a big deal) why don’t we go to more trouble to help their patrons’ browsing experiences be more secure (https, Tor, encrypted wifi, who knows….)? The answer is boring: money. But it’s a useful concern and one that library leadership (professional organizations etc.) could be doing a HELL of a lot better at. Also pushing vendors (since we buy a lot of b2b software) to offer safer tools. We still have vendors who will email you a password in plaintext. Those vendors should not be getting money by anyone and it’s just a highlight of how little we understand. Like, you’d never buy a car without seatbelts (and, well, can’t) so why are these people still in business?
2. Being better at raising awareness of cybersecurity issues and communicating that to our patrons. So “talking the walk” if you will. This line is trickier because at some level if a patron says “I don’t really care about privacy…” it becomes a challenge to figure out what to do. Do you try to “incent” them to get more serious about it, or do you just realize there are a lot of different ways to be human? I think there are a lot of smart people in the Open Source world who sort of shot themselves in the foot being OS purists and people couldn’t get on board if the only way you could support free software was go ALL IN with OS tools. The same with cybersecurity and privacy, we have to find ways to allow people to twiddle the knobs for themselves. They want to use facebook, but do it safely. Do we have something to offer them?
THAT said I think we need, as a profession, to become a lot more aware of what threats really look like and who we’re really in danger from (imo, it’s more government and advertisers and not what we’ve traditionally thought of as “bad guys”) and having our own way to frame the narrative so that the library is part of that conversation and can help people understand the issues. You read “old media” and you get the feeling that a lot of them don’t really understand the problem (and TV news, my god) so it’s no wonder people who are of average computer intelligence can’t figure it out better. We need to provide options and sensible information to those people not just more FUD.
I made a thing. It started out with me just reading Twitter. A friend built a thing and tweeted about it.
Here’s a thing I made during an in-class demo today. https://t.co/e4EEfyp5vg
— Dan Phiffer (@dphiffer) March 29, 2016
The thing was a super-simple search box which returned content on Flickr that was public domain or Creative Commons licensed. Very cool. However, when I use stuff on my talks, tools or otherwise, I like to make sure it’s free content. Creative Commons is great, I just was looking for something a little different. I noticed the code was on Github and thought “Hmmm, I might be able to do this…”
I’ve used Github a bit for smaller things, making little typo fixes to other people’s stuff. If you don’t know about it, it’s basically a free online front end to software called Git. At this site, people can share a single code base and do “version control” with it. This is a super short and handwavey explanation but basically if someone says “I made a thing, the code is on Github” you can go get that code and either suggest modifications to the original owner OR get a copy for yourself and turn it into something else.
In the past we’ve always said that Open Source was great because if you didn’t like something you could change it. However it’s only been recently that the tools to do this sort of thing have become graspable by the average non-coder. I am not a coder. I can write HTML and CSS and maybe peek inside some code and see what it’s doing, maybe, but I can’t build a thing from scratch. Not complaining, just setting the scene.
So, I “forked” this code (i.e. got my own copy) and opened it up to see if I could see where it was doing its thing and if I could change it to make it do something slightly different. Turns out that Flickr’s API (Advanced Programming Interface) basically sends a lot of variables back and forth using pretty simple number codes and it was mostly a case of figuring out the numbers and changing them. In this image, green is current code, red is older code.
The fact that the code was well-commented really helped. So then I changed the name, moved it over to space that I was hosting (and applied for my own API code) and I mess around with it every few days. And here’s the cool thing. You can also have this code, either Dan’s which searches free and CC images, or mine which only searches for free images. And you don’t have to mess with it if you don’t want. But if maybe you want to use the thing but make a few of your own modifications, it’s easier than ever to do it with something like Github. Please feel free to share.
If you’re always looking for more ways to get public domain and free images, you may like this older post I wrote.
So in the past month I’ve done something I swear I would never do. And I did it twice. I’m taking about webinars. I swore them off in 2008-ish when I did one that was an end-to-end hassle of software, hardware and personal communication. I felt underutilized and underpaid and definitely didn’t feel like I got my message across effectively. A lot has changed since then. Software has gotten better and I’ve gotten a bit better at working with whatever I’m given. Here’s a little rundown on the two events.
First talk was for NJLA, a little virtual keynote talk about Open Library. We used Adobe Connect software which was pretty straightforward to use even though it meant transferring my Keynote slides into PowerPoint. I got to give a talk, keep up with a chat window and answered questions afterwards. I thought it went well and I got to talk about Open Library to a lot of people without leaving my house. The talk is archived for NJLA members but otherwise not available online. Since I’ve been talking about Open Library a lot lately I’ve made a landing page for the various talks I gave.
The second talk was more complex as it was part of a multi-hour event called Library 2.016 with a subtopic called Privacy in the Digital Age. This one used Blackboard’s collaborate software which was a bit more of a hassle (could not use my presenter notes at all, had to read my talk from my laptop at home) but did allow for recording of the entire event so it could be played back, chatroom at all. My talk was short, twenty minutes, and then we had a brief Q&A session. The sponsor of the event, San Jose State University’s library school, made the odd choice of not making links to the recordings or the schedule of the event available to people who didn’t register. However, the link to the recording is a public link, so if you want to hear my talk, you can do that here. I’ve also put my notes and slides online in the usual place.
In both cases, the webinar format worked decently even if the software was a little clunky to get to know. Unsurprisingly, the trickiest issues were the human decisions that went into how to run the webinars, not the actual software or hardware. IU had a decent enough time and am going to consider maybe doing another webinar before another eight years pass. Big thanks to Allen McGinley and Steve Hargadon who made both events happen.