Pre-Shelf Life of Library Materials

What happens to your library book before it gets to the shelves? This Flickr photoset can walk you through it. I learned bunches of things. Thanks to the Hatcher Library at the University of Michigan and Alexis for putting it all together.

my trip to Seattle

I was in Seattle over the weekend. Sorry I didn’t call you. I went to a wedding and then got a terrible cold and spent the last day and a half on my friend’s couch reading comic books until flying home on a red eye the day before yesterday. I am recovered now, mostly. The one thing on my to do list was to see the new library. When I left Seattle four years ago, it was just a hole in the ground and a loose frame but not yet open to the public. I had really liked the old library — though understood why it needed updating — and I even liked the temporary library. I can’t say the same for the new library.

Now, there are many great things about the new library. I connected to the wifi/internet no problem. All the people I asked for advice and directions were super friendly and helpful. I liked having the option to get a cup of coffee and have a dozen interesting places to hang out with it. The place is fun to look at and explore. I enjoyed getting to pore through bound volumes of old periodicals that were right there on the shelves. The online catalog has finally improved to the point where it’s easy to use and makes a fair amount of sense; at SPL in particular that was not always true.

However, I saw a real disconnect beween the lovely outside and grand entry spaces to the library, plus a few other very design-y areas, and the rest of the building. Materials were hard to find. VERY hard to find. Signage was abysmal, often just laserprinted pieces of paper, sometimes laminated and sometimes not. Doors to areas that may have been public were forbidding and unwelcoming. There weren’t enough elevators. There weren’t enough bathrooms. There wasn’t a comfortable place to sit in the entire building. There were lots of “dead spaces” that, because of architecture, couldn’t really be used for anything and they were collecting dust. The lighting was bad. Stack areas were dim and narrow. The teen area seemed like an afterthought. Bizarre display areas with a table and some books on it were in the middle of vast open areas. Most of the place felt like it was too big and then the stacks felt too crowded and I had to climb around people working to find things. Shelvers shut down the entire “spiral” concept with booktrucks. The writer’s area in this library is a shadow of the glorious writers room in the old downtown building where I had a desk briefly.

Did I think it was going to be different? Maybe a little. I left Seattle specifically because its idea of progress and mine were fundamentally at odds and I didn’t enjoy the destabilizing effect of a city always under construction and didn’t get enough from the things that were eventually constructed. This library looks like it was built for a bookless future where we get all of our information from the internet and the digital realm. For now, we’ll just keep the books on hand because people will bitch if they don’t get to read them, but they’re no longer the reason for the library, and they’re no longer honored and appreciated as the things we love and build libraries to house.

My small photoset of the Seattle Public Library is here.

: I was pointed to a PUBLIB posting by a librarian who was at SPL quite recently who makes many of the same points that I do in different ways.

can you control public domain images? should you?

Peter Hirtle has a great post over at the LibraryLaw blog about the Smithsonian’s attempt to control reproduction and subsequent use of the materials they have made available digitally and online, many of which are in the public domain. A group called Public Resource decided to push the envelope on the Smithsonian’s terms of service, specifically their copyright notice, and downloaded all 6000+ images and made them available on Flickr where they still are. Hirtle questions the legality of what Public Resource has done, but also questions the copyright that the Smithsonian asserts.

Again, I wish the Smithsonian didn’t try to assert control over its images. And while I think that Public.Resource.Org crossed the line, it is ridiculous that anyone else can now take any of public domain images Public.Resource.Org has distributed and do whatever they want with them. (Any contract limiting use of the images can only be between the Smithsonian and Public.Resource.Org.) That is just one more reason why repositories should focus on providing good services to users, rather than attempting to establish monopoly control over images from their holdings.

Update: I made this for you.

fare yus lol

heavy meta parking lot

I like books because they tend towards linearity and being one little knowledge parcel of something. However more and more when I read (latest book: Book of Lists, 90′s edition) I have a little index card that I use as a bookmark — card catalog card, actually — that I make notes on. The notes often turn into Google searches, links, MetaFilter posts and emails to my Mom. My books become more than themselves by being dissected and shared.

So, this has been the theme for this weekend, a weekend that had me teaching my Mom how to use Greasemonkey scripts to show more photos on her main Flickr page. I also taught her how to use Grab to do screen captures, how to take long shutter photos with her camera and why is considered “social.” She even discovered she had fans on, what fun! Three other things that sprang up, regarding the meta level of things.

  1. Flickr Machine Tags – tagging is great, but most people agree that some sort of structured taxonomy complementing a folksonomy is a stronger and more useful way to make information findable. Enter machine tags. Also known as “triple tags” they add an almost faceted layer of classification to Flickr, but still in a totally “roll your own” way. So, for example. I took a picture of my Mom. She is also a Flickr user. In the past, I could add a tag that said “Mom” or “Muffet” (her user name) but there would be no way to explicitly link her Flickr identity to the Flickr picture of her except with a clunky HTML link which makes sense to a human reader but isn’t super clear to a machine. If you check the picture I linked to, it has a new sort of tag flickr:user=muffet which you create just like a normal tag, but it has parts to it. Right now it’s the Wild West as far as what you can build into machine tags — see hoodie:color=orange there aren’t really any standards or even accepted practices, but there are a lot of people doing a lot of talking and it’s an exciting time to be into taxonomies.
  2. Ed “superpatron” Vielmetti and I have been sending mail this evening. This diagram should explain everything.
  3. Back to books for a second. How great would it be if, while you were reading a book, you could have a graphical representation of the places talked about? Well, one of the rocket scientists over at Google Book Search is building just that sort of tool. Their post Books:Mapped explains a little of how it works. The about page of the book on Google Books will have a map, if one is available. Here is an example from David Foster Wallace’s book The Girl With Curious Hair or perhaps more dramatically The Travels of Marco Polo.

on (tough) decision making

Today at my drop in time I got snarled at by a student. She is an older woman [in her 70's but her Ebay profile says she's 59] who got a new-to-her laptop running Windows 98 which she is learning to use with her digital camera. I’ve been trying to nudge her towards newer technology but she’s tight with money and so we persevere with what she has. She forgets things and so every time I show her how to, for example, move all the images off of her calendar, we have to write it down on a piece of paper. She almost always loses the piece of paper, so we go over it again. She always asks me how I’m doing, listens to the answer, and sometimes brings things in for me: an odd bit of jewlery; a tupperware container full of grapes; an adjustable wrench.

She talks to herself while she works. It’s very distracting to me and I’ve tried to suck it up. It’s a big lab and usually we can spread out, but people have been complaining that it’s tough for them to work with her always muttering. I’ve asked her to stop and she sort of waves her hand at me, claims she’s not talking, and usually quiets down. Today, I asked her several times and the last time she just snapped “Why should I have to be quiet when you’re talking to everyone too? I’m just whispering over here, hardly talking at all, you should get cotton for your ears if it bothers you so much!” I was quiet, and went to talk to her later, explained that there were other people besides me who were distracted, and gave her a few options: move to a far corner of the lab, keep her voice down so that it doesn’t distract people, work from home and interact with me via email. She didn’t like any of these choices much, but that’s what the choices are unless we can think of better ones. I’m not sure me playing Iron&Wine at high volumes would help, but it might not hurt….

The reason I’m bringing this up is because I read T. Scott’s post about decision making and what it means to be a manager. While of course we’d like to be able to please everyone with the acute insight of our decision-making capability, sometimes this is just not going to work. Sometimes two positions conflict absolutely, and your job as a manager is to make a choice, a choice that will piss someone off.

I think of this in terms of the signs in the library that so many people have Flickred. While I appreciate that it’s time to put the shushing librarian image to bed, we still have to have a response to people who show up at the library with an expectation of quiet. If the library isn’t quiet anymore, we need to communicate that, not just say “thanks for your feedback” and hope that person doesn’t complain to us anymore. If people on cell phones are annoying other people, we need to make a choice, not just expect the problem to go away with the one loud talker. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to have quiet spaces in the library, or no cell phone spaces in the library, or “this is not a good place for your soda” places in the library. Usually our libraries are big enough that we can have those spaces as well as a noisy space, and a phone-talking space, and a soda drinking space. But if we can’t, if we have to make a choice, I would hope that we could make that choice openly and transparently and clearly. Every space can’t be everything to everyone. Good management is about making and communicating decisions about resources and priorities.

[Y]ou should assume that every decision will be criticized and misunderstood. This is an aspect of change management that I haven’t seen discussed much in the libraryland blogs. I believe in having as open, transparent and participative a decision-making process as possible. I believe in consensus building. But “consensus” doesn’t imply unanimity of opinion. The quest for complete agreement, the desire to adjust to everybody’s concerns in making decisions can paralyze an organization.

Flickr, patron complaints about

Are you a library that has gotten one of the cut-n-paste emails warning about “hardcore and even child porn” images on Flickr? Do you host a library-oriented group that has suddenly had an inundation of inappropriate (and possibly pornographic) pictures from users unknown to you? If so, you are not alone. Libraries and librarians have set up a discussion forum in this Flickr group to talk tactics. Michael Stephens has some backstory about the problem on ALA TechSource, particularly concerning as we watch DOPA inexorably move through Congress.

Educate your users—your community—about the good and bad of social software. I’d much rather give a roadmap and some guidance to someone instead of blocking access.

freegovinfo second month wrap up

I wrapped up my second month blogging over at It’s very challenging to blog outside of your normal area of interest, thanks for letting me help out. They’ve got a fun little project going on that combines their site and Flickr. It’s called Best. Titles. Ever! Here is the page with the titles. And here is the Flickr pool with images of the actual documents.

library too hard, too big

When I briefly had a job scoring essays for the California Achievement tests, I was always sadly surprised at how much trouble some people had with them. I read one essay that just said “I did not finish” and another that said “don’t fale me.” I was reminded about this when I looked at the image on Aaron Schmidt’s post about the Jail Finds Flickr group about the things that this person found in books or on the book cart at the jail where they volunteer.

books fountain, etc.

My Mom sent me a link to this book fountain photo on Flickr and I figured I’d spend some more time looking around at various tags: book, library [with this book chopper, and this inter-tidal loan] and librarian where I found these Bibliotecária figurines. There are 449 groups that contain the word library and 39 with the word librarian. Keep in mind that many of these photos are published under a Creative Commons license which means that they can be used by you or your library for many different purposes. Check the rights information underneath the “Additional Information” heading in the lower left.

librarian mention in the movies

Yesterday, an 80-year-old librarian broke my penis.” (link 100% safe for work unless the word penis isn’t safe for work, in which case you’re sort of screwed already aren’t you?)