high tech to low(er) tech and the blogs in between

So, I gave my talk at Access and it went pretty well. I was a little out of my element since I’m usually the techie person talking to less techie people. Here I was representing the non-techies with a message of “hey don’t forget usability!” among other things. I had a lot of downtime in various lobbies and airports on the way back and so I poked around looking to see what, if anything, people had said about it. There was a short blurb on the K-State Conference blog about it.

Anyone who has been following my travels knows I have a particular soft spot for Kansas both because I’ve had a great time meeting and talking to people there, but also because they are doing some neat stuff with technology that helps make up for their geographical disatance from other KS librarians as well as other libraries generally. Just look at this list of blogs and feeds to see just some of the stuff Kansas State University is doing. Anyhow, I saw the post on my WordPress dashboard and left a comment. One of the things that I think separates people who I consider “bloggers” from people with blogs is this sort of inter-blog commenting. If someone says something nice (or not nice actually) about me, I try to leave a note. It just seems like decent etiquette and a way to say “hey welcome to the blogoworld” for newer bloggers, particularly library students.

I think an easy mistake for first-time bloggers to make is to assume that their blog is going to become some conversational destination wthout realizing that they need to go out and converse as well as bring people in to do it. The conversation that we all talk about cluing in to doesn’t happen in any one place, it happens in a lot of places all at once. Dale Askey, who was at Access 2007 and wrote the little blurb about my talk follows up with a little more explanation about some of these blog effects. He tells us about how after Amanda did her nuts and bolts talk about the Endeca rollout they did at McMaster, someone from Endeca’s Canada office emailed her a few hours later interested in talking with her about some of her ideas. Neat. This is the sort of back and forth we’d like to be having, it’s nice to see it really happening in ways that help libraries.

There’s a point to this story: people read and process our blogs in ways we cannot control and do not intend. Far from being a cautionary tale, I want to do a little dance because of this. We’re seeing what we said was the point behind blogging. Put information out there, and let people do with it what they will. Thanks to this little bizarre set of events I’ve related, I met new people [and] caught the interest of Endeca with my comments…

And, on the heels of that, NELA has a conference blog, complete with a Flickr photo pool and a team of local bloggers so anyone who can’t go can follow along at home. It’s worth noting that the entire cost to set this all up — except human time which is important but separate — was probably close to zero. Free WordPress.com account [note to NELA blog admin: consider disabling Snap previews, they're an obnoxious side effect of WP.com blogs], free Flickr account [note to Flickr admin(s): choose a Flickr web address by clicking here when you're logged in so the URL for your pictures is even more customized] and all the rest of it the feeds, the comments, the basic designs, just come along with it. I’m sure one or more of my talks will show up there and I’m excited to get to read about the large number of presentations that I can’t go to which I now know I can still read about.

off to Access

I’m heading out of Boston this morning to go to Victoria and speak tomorrow at Access2007. From there I’ll be going to NELA in Sturbridge MA where I’ll be giving a few talks. Please say hi if you see me in the subway, airport, bus, ferry, hotel, helijet, library, or just wandering around somewhere.

ALA study: public library funding & technology access

Libraries Connect Communities: Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study 2006-2007 Report is out today. I haven’t looked at it yet and was waiting for it to hit the website. The URL for the actual 6MB file is here

http://www.ala.org/ala/ors/publiclibraryfundingtechnologyaccessstudy/finalreport.pdf

If you bookmark the page the document is linked to it will appear as “ALA | 2006-2007 Report” on your bookmark list. While I continue to make the point that tech/web savviness is going to be an important part of being useful relevant libraries in the 21st century, we still put out documents intended to be widely disseminated in PDF format, not HTML This assures that it will be shallowly linked and quoted, if at all, and those links will be hard to track and learn from.

The one news article that I’ve read referring to this report — an AP wire article that I read in the Las Vegas Sun — “Despite Demand, Libraries Won’t Add PCs” is a weird mess of statistics and odd conclusions (won’t add PCs? how about can’t add PCs. Who did this study again? Oh right The Gates Foundation… gee I wonder what their solution to this involves, it better not be Vista. update: the geeky artist librarian agrees). It discusses how popular technology in libraries has become, but also what the limitations are that libraries are facing. The whole article is tailor-made to support a roll-out of the Gates Foundation’s next round of funding which I’m sure will nicely sew up all the loose ends that this article pinpoints.

Except for the fact that more computers means, or should mean, more staff and more space, neither of which get a lot of lip service from technology grantors who would rather give away last year’s software for a hefty tax writeoff. You’ll note that this article says that libraries are cutting staffing so they can afford more computers. I assume then that this is supposed to imply that getting more computers means more freed up money to hire staff. However, we all know, at least out here in rural noplace, that funding remains fixed as does space and what we could really use is an operating system that doesn’t need a 20MB security update every few weeks and a browser that isn’t out-of-the-box vulnerable to a huge range of exploits that leave our computers barely working. The good news is that we can get both of those things and we don’t have to wait for someone to loan us money to do it. Sorry for the slightly bitter tone, I’ll chime in with some more facts from this study once I’ve gotten a chance to read it.

Going to Access 2007?

Hi. I have an odd request. I’m going to be speaking at the Access 2007 conference in Victoria BC on October 11th. I’m really looking forward to it. However, travelling there involves going from Tinytown USA to Tinytown Canada which means two small airports which means two long (or expensive, or both) trips. If anyone is driving to Access and heading either through Vancouver BC or Seattle WA on their way there and wouldn’t mind giving me a ride to the conference — I speak on the morning of the 11th, pretty flexible otherwise — I’d be happy to chip in for gas, share my hotel room if it’s logistically possible, or otherwise make it a non-sucky experience for you in the interests of saving the conference promoters money and me some time. Drop a note in the comments or find me in the usual places. I’ll be buying tickets sometime this week. Thanks.

some portland follow up and discussion of speed

I finally got to meet Anna Creech as well as a bunch of other great librarians when I was in Oregon. Anna has some notes from my talk as well as the two other speakers who gave presentations on the first day, Anthony Bernier and Rachel Bridgewater both of whom gave really interesting presentations that I was delighted to find myself sandwiched between.

All of us spoke a lot about recent data from the Pew Reports, many of which I was copying and pasting graphs from into my talk at the last minute [see geocities vs. myspace and encarta vs. wikipedia] and I even got to mention the Digital Divide a little. I was sorry that I wasn’t able to include information from Speed Matters, a site set up by the Communication Workers of American urging that the US develop a comprehensive broadband policy to ensure equitable broadband access for everyone. I just learned about the site from FreeGovInfo which discusses some of the different ways we still have a digital divide.

There is an income digital divide: more than 62% of households with incomes over $100,000 subscribe to high speed broadband at home while just 11% of households with incomes below $30,000 subscribe.

There is a rural/urban digital divide: only 17% of adults in rural areas subscribe to broadband compared to 31% in urban and 30% in suburban areas.

And there is a farm/non-farm divide: only 15.8% of farm households have adopted broadband.

Here’s some specifics about the Vermont situation and Verizon’s plan to sell off local access lines in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Here in Vermont that’s about 85-90% of the state’s phone lines. While I loved living in Topsham with our local telephone company Topsham Telephone, there’s a real problem when big businesses who were given favorable legislation to obtain monopolies in industries like telecommunications are then allowed cherrypick and jettison the less profitable areas.

This will affect me personally, as well as people in my town and county who are still waiting to have DSL available in their locations. As we learned from the Pew Reports, people who have faster connections do more online. More government information and resources are being moved online. More online content is becoming inaccessible to people who only have dialup connections. Getting broadband to the libraries is part of the equation, and an important part, but what are our other obligations to get our patrons and our neighbors on to the information superhighway at speeds that are adequate to do what they need to do?

Access Hackfest – submit a library hack

The Access 2006 Library Conference and Hackfest is October 11th and they are accepting submisions. Submit a great hack that would take a day to code and have something to do with libraries… wait until October 12… see the results. What could go wrong? [thank sj]

understanding what users understand

Library Terms that Users Understand – a big survey of available data to show us that there ARE best practices as far as our users are concerned.

This site is intended to help library web developers decide how to label key resources and services in such a way that most users can understand them well enough to make productive choices. It serves as a clearinghouse of usability test data evaluating terminology on library websites, listing terms that tests show are effective or ineffective labels. It presents alternatives by documenting terms that are actually used by libraries. It also suggests test methods and best practices for reducing cognitive barriers caused by terminology.

Surprise surprise, the word periodical is confusing. So are words like database, pathfinder and Do-it-Yourself in Unicorn. [web4lib]

ALA – value vs. return

My last Council meeting as an At Large Councilor is in New Orleans. When I’m at home, I say “Good riddance!” but when I’m in Council meetings, especially if something worthwhile is happening that I feel a part of, I feel proud to serve. The committment to service is one of the things that I really enjoy about my membership in ALA, but I think that’s more about me and my priorities than ALA. ALA gives me a good place to be a helper at a national level. Meredith was over for dinner last weekend and we talked about ALA, among other things. I can’t say that’s what sparked this long and passionate post of hers about ALA [with some follow-up by Dorothea here] , but I know that some of the topics ring very true to me as well. My issues in specific are what I perceive to be the relatively lax standards in library school accreditation and the misrepresentation of the current job market both of which are contributing to a glutted market and a lot of fresh-out-of-school students who are having a hard time finding work at the same time as ALA is hiking their dues by 30% over three years.

And, of course, the web site. I completely accept the “Mistakes were made.” reasoning for why the site is the way it is. What I don’t understand is the absolute lack of anyone seeming to try to make it better, now. Basic things like shorter URLs, accessbility issues like ALT and title tags, and clearer navigation don’t need to wait for a redesign to be slowly added and implemented site-wide. We’re still seeing URLs like this one for one of the main pages on the site, broken links like the ones down the side of this page (B Roll, Downloadable Photos, Contacts, Feedback) and a 404 page that refers to the “new” website and instructs you to email someone who will get back to you within a week. The Member and Customer Service center link in the footer to a sitemap page and the FAQ (which you can get to by going to ala.org/faq, but the “cite this page” link says otherwise) talks about the next conference occurring in January 2006. ALA does a lot of things right, don’t get me wrong, but their sites seem designed and populated with content by people who do not use the web. When PayPal is the dominant way of paying for things online, the ALA Online Donation form looks like this. Library 2.0 is all about continual feedback and improvement, not this sort of “let’s make a list of everything that’s wrong and fix it when we do the redesign.” It’s not normal for a lot of library professionals to be continually evaluating and tweaking, but that’s what maintaining always-on presence requires.

The question remains, how to you serve a completely diverse group of information professionals, some of whom don’t even own a computer and others who maintain elaborate online communities and are involved in creating the next generation of library technology? I have no idea. I can sort of gesture in an “Ug, ug.” way and point to who I think is doing it right, and similarly indicate who I think is doing things wrong. I can join governing bodies and try to put in my $.02 and hope that I see change in my lifetime. I live in a rural area, I’m not against change coming slowly. On the other hand, when you know change comes slowly and you see the lumbering steamship that is ALA coming to a fork in the road and teeter on the brink of, say, another bad website design, or more public statements about the librarian shortage, well I just feel that I have to say something.