Applying for a grant….

firefox users go fuck yourselves, love OCLC & WebJunction & the Gates Foundation

So today my task at the library where I am employed as the nominal “systems” librarian (a very part time job mostly concerned with the eventual automation of the card catalog) was to decipher the procedure for using WebJunction’s TechAtlas (© Powered by OCLC) to do an inventory of our four public access computers. This inventory is mandatory for those applying for funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Here is how my day went.

Our library had gotten a letter from our state librarian including a letter from the TechAtlas people explaining the steps we needed to take to do this. The first step which was strongly suggested but not required was to sign up for a webinar that explained, I suppose, how to do the inventory. My boss wanted to arrange a time where she and I could both be present for the webinar. I got as far as the Wimba set-up asking me to disable my pop-up blocker (do not get me started on the 2.2 MB door card again) and then said I thought we could figure out the process (for our FOUR computers) without it.

The letter had a space where our login and password were provided for us. Unfortunately our letter only had our password and not our login. I called the help number at the bottom of the sheet and talked to a nice lady at NELINET who gave me my login (which was just the password as a techatlas.org email address). She wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be upper or lower case. When I logged in, I had to set up my profile [and choose our own login and password] which included a library name that was not ours. [Note: I fixed this problem, but our "network" still displays a library that is nowhere near us and not related to us]. This occasioned another telephone call to NELINET where they actually had to call the TechAtlas people and get back to me. I had to enter our library’s information — actually my information — on a page with no privacy policy or terms of use. Every time I update an item on my profile page, TechAtlas sends me an email. I have seven emails from them now.

I did track down the privacy policy, not because I’m worried I’ll be spammed but because I think it’s a good idea generally to read them and see what they’re about. Oddly, the privacy policy page in the TechAtlas universe ended prematurely, halfway through the word “statement.” Of course I took a screen capture, but they have since fixed this, making the privacy policy a downloadable pdf, which doesn’t seem super user friendly to me (and hey isn’t that what OCLC just did with another policy…?). Here are the Terms of Service which aren’t in a pdf. There are also the terms of use linked from this About Us page which are a LOT more legalistic. Please keep in mind that if I do not agree with any of these, I am welcome to not use the site and I can not apply for funding in this round of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funding.

So, on to the mandatory inventory. This was the first thing that greeted me, a browser incompatibility message (some language nsfw there). What this means, in a more polite fashion is that TechAtlas has some nifty IE tools that can make the inventory process a lot simpler. Firefox users need to do more of the process by hand. You know, that’s fine with me. I don’t like it, but that’s okay. However, acting like this isn’t a series of choices that were made by designers and program managers seems somehow odd. Odder still, when I went home this evening to grab some screenshots, the site now gives me a similar “Browser Incompatibility” message and yet displays that I am using a compatible browser. Apparently Firefox got compatible within the last few hours. I guess this is good news? The part they left out is that my browser is incompatible because I’m on a Mac, not because I’m using Firefox.

So we have four computers and it’s not that difficult to fill in the blanks. For each computer, there are twenty-two fields to fill out, but only five of them are mandatory. We have four identical computers so this was actually pretty simple and you can edit the entries if you get anything wrong. Oddly, one of the questions: “Opportunity Online Grant Funds?” which is asking whether you used this certain grant to get the money to buy the computers originally (a question our librarian wasn’t totally sure about, but was pretty sure) isn’t actually editable after the fact. I hope I chose correctly!

So, it didn’t take terribly long. Most of my time at work today was spent cursing at Overdrive and having to do Windows Media Player updates on computers that are locked down via Centurion guard. What I told the librarian — who is a very nice lady, and sympathetic to my muttering in a “There but for the grace of god go I” sort of way — is that this time around, if they let us, maybe we should get Macs.

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.

hi – 09dec

Hi. I was interviewed about the digital divide, camel librarians and the Gates Foundation on Moby Lives yesterday. You can grab the podcast here.