2016 in libraries

pie chart of libraries I've visited

I’m a firm believer of eating your own dog food. Meaning if you say stuff about libraries (and I do), then make sure you go to them as if going to them was your JOB (and I do). Don’t just go to the one library where your job is, though that helps.

Every year I make a list. Every year I reflect on that list. This year I went to forty-five libraries in nine states and one non-US country. Eighty-six library visits total. Many more different libraries than last year, but just a few more visits overall. With all this, I only added two new libraries to my Vermont 183 project even as I hand out awards to people who have been to over 190 libraries in Vermont!

Seven years in a row I’ve been keeping this up. Previous years: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and some reviews from 2003

Libraries I went to more than once include.

  • Kimball (VT) – my local and one of the best libraries in my opinion.
  • Hartness (VT) – my local academic, bigger collection and longer hours but further away
  • Westport (MA) – my summer local, don’t love it but do use it
  • Tiverton (RI) – the library in the summer that I go to more often even if I can’t check out books
  • Carney/Dartmouth (MA) – local academic, another great library, well-loved, well-used
  • Harvard Law Library (MA) – where my fellowship is and where I can go work
  • New Bedford (MA) – used to be a museum, I take guests here
  • Hookset (NH) – here for work, twice, always enjoy it

Libraries I only went to once

  • Gutman (Harvard) – part of an attempt to go to all Harvard’s libraries
  • Winooski (VT) – doing some Passport work here
  • Oak Lawn IL – stopped & checked email on our #WestOn20 trip
  • Library of Congress (DC) – always a favorite
  • Stowe Free (VT) – participated in a panel for their anniversary
  • Newton (MA) – stopped to chill after a long ALA week
  • URI/Carrothers (RI) – gave a talk, visited friends
  • Claremont/Berkeley (CA) – hid out avoiding a kid birthday party
  • Southworth/Dartmouth (MA) – great place to work, lovely art
  • British Library (UK) – got to take my sister to this great place
  • VT Law Library – MontP (VT) – a farewell to a colleague
  • Lamont (Harvard) – so stoked to finally get in here!
  • Aldrich/Barre (VT) – visiting a friend doing some visioning
  • Belchertown (MA) – what a gem! stopped by on the way home from friends’
  • MIT/Hayden (MA) – what a treat after Harvard’s closed system
  • Ames/Easton (MA) – stopped in before a wedding next door
  • Former War Library (DC) – this is basically IN THE WHITE HOUSE, omg
  • Harold Johnson Library, Hampshire (MA) – my alma mater
  • Montpelier (VT) – stopping in before seeing a friend
  • Goddard (VT) – was on the radio!
  • Brown/Northfield (VT) – passport wrap-up
  • Cambridge/Central Branch (MA) – can’t even remember this visit but I am sure I liked it
  • Boston Public (MA) – saw my friend Tom, got a cool tour
  • Schlesinger/Harvard – saw my friend Jen, got a cool tour
  • Lewisham (UK) – a great neighborhood library
  • Watson Retreat Center (NY) – a funky special library
  • Internet Archive (CA) – they say they are a library, so they are
  • Girard (PA) – a round library, part of #WestOn20
  • Caird Library (UK) – at the Naitonal Maritime Museum, not as friendly as I’d hoped
  • Howe/Hanover (NH) – always a favorite
  • MLK Branch (DC) – saw movies about black history and drank it in
  • Weissman/Harvard – a rare open house, I was not allowed to take photos
  • Cazenovia (NY) – a mummy!
  • Manor House (UK) – a library having hard times but doing ok
  • Fairfield/Millicent (MA) – another great library to take friends to
  • BU (MA) – gave a talk, stuck around to see the basement
  • Pollard/Lowell – a great old classic library

I’ve had an average of 80-ish visits per year for a few years now so I think that is my new normal. So a library every five days. A new library every eight days. Maybe when I hit ten years I’ll do a decade long wrap up. I wish this data was all in standard form….

I am very thankful my work takes me to all of these lovely places. Thanks to the librarians who graciously showed me around.

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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.

Screen Shot 2016-11-25 at 16.12.33

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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