OPACs old and new, Ms. Jessamyn goes to Washington

I’m at the Calef Library in Washington today doing some computer maintenance and just all around tech chit-chat with the librarian. She’s involved in a discussion with the board of trustees about whether she can get health insurance this year and it’s not going particularly well. Her husband is a farmer, he doesn’t have health insurance either. It’s ineresting how many librarians in my region have farmer husbands. The library here is open 19 hours a week and she works ten of them, the other nine are staffed by a volunteer. You’ve probably seen the pictures of this library on Flickr, it’s a really lovely space. The librarian is a real can-do gal. She’s working with a nice space, a teeny budget, and a moderately supportive board. Her and I talk about technology and the things I explain to her stick with her.

We were talking about wireless today — the library has broadband on two computers via cable modem, the librarian shares her computer with the public when it’s busy — and she said “You just buy some hardware and set it up and you’re done?” I said yes, mostly. Next thing you know, we bought a wireless router with a wireless PCMCIA card for under $30, delivered. Next week when it arrives I’ll show her how to set it up, help her make some configuration handouts for her patrons, and we’re done. It will be the first wireless hotspot in Washington Vermont and probably the only one within 10-15 miles. When we were through talking about wireless, the Town Clerk called, she was having trouble with her email and couldn’t get the librarian’s report from her email in order to put in the town report. I walked over there and showed her how to enter her username and password into her dial-up configuration, and also how to use Word’s “recover text from any document” feature to get the librarian’s Word Perfect report into the clerk’s Word document. I got back to the library and tol the librarian she didn’t have to retype the report and this made her pretty happy.

I’ve been talking to the librarian here about getting her catalog online. ILS software is sort of expensive, though she could probably get the funding. For a library that for all intents and purposes is going to stay small, major feature-rich ILSes are not as important as things such as an easy interface and a simple and cheap data input mechanism. I’d been talking to Timothy over at LibraryThing about whether he’d consider rolling out a version of his super software for teeny libraries. His encouraging answer was “not yet” but we’ve been talking about it.

This brings me to my next topic, sparked by Jenny Levine’s TechSource post about Library 2.0 in the Real World and my new pal Casey who maybe you’ve heard of. Casey Bisson built an OPAC prototype that runs on WordPress. No, seriously, look. It will run with any vendor’s ILS. He talked about it at ALA well before I got there, and people were buzzing about it all week. Not only is it a clever hack, it’s clean, simple, unbranded and highly functional in ways that seem pretty obvious to bloghappy me. I’d love to see a prototype running publicly so that he could get some feedback from folks who maybe don’t come from the born-with-the-chip generation.

In my neck of the woods, small ILS vendors are charging $1500 for this level of functionality, the ability to put an OPAC on the web. Non-tech savvy librarians who don’t have the ability to code these features themselves find ways to pay it. And, bringing this post full-circle, then they find other ways to get health insurance for the year. I think you know the moral of this story. I’m happy to have some good news to report from here in the hinterlands.

taggytastic sums it up – tag cloud 4 your OPAC?

How great is it to be able to see the tag cloud of the materials in your library catalog? How many ways can you slice this and it comes out interesting? This is based on a mock-up that Jenny did, only Davey took it one step further and, um, did it. Words fail me. Wow.

Jenny uses her librarian superpowers for good

I talked to Jenny a bit at ALA about Digital Rights Management and the ListenIllinois project. I was concerned, as she was, about the interoperability of the ebooks that the program provides, and the fact that their books won’t play on iPods, among other platforms and hardware device options. Luckily for ListenIllinois patrons, Jenny was in a prime position to do something about it. Her solution, though admittedly imperfect, is a glorious example of a librarian seeing a problem or an inequality of access, deciding that it needs to be fixed and setting policy to address that inequality: libraries that join the ListenIllinois contract now need to purchase at least one MP3 player to circulate audiobooks to patrons. I applaud her decision, her plan, and her dedication to explaining it and trying to err on the side of inclusivity and access instead of shrugging and saying “well, what can you do?”

It’s a proven fact that libraries help bridge the digital divide, and now we need to step up and help bridge what is a growing digital audiobook divide. It’s simply unethical to say you’re not going to circulate players because it would be too much of a hassle for your staff. This is the future format of audiobooks, and we need to make them available to everyone, especially because there are some titles that are available exclusively in this format. There are so many reasons to circulate your own players right now that it’s almost a crime not to. If you look at it from a PR standpoint, do you really want to be the one standing up in front of the microphone explaining why you couldn’t spend $70 on one measly player for those patrons that don’t have one of their own?

advice on library school and learning technologies

Meredith and Jenny have both posted very astute summaries of technology competencies that either are or should be required for incoming professionals to the librarianship field. Meredith focuses on what you should think about learning while you’re at school and Jenny adapts a list of skills for educators into her 20 Technology Skills Every Librarian Should Have list. Not a surprise that there is more than a little overlap between these lists. If you’re already out of school and in the field, think of this as a laundry list of opportunities for professional development, or catalysts for librarian skillshares.