Another talk: why libraries are the best thing

its a great time to be in libraries

I really never thought that I would turn into someone who gave “pep rally” type talks, but I was asked to come to the Somerville Public Library and give a short, inspirational talk to their friends group at their annual appreciation day and was told I could talk about whatever I wanted. As you may have realized by now, this makes my little activist heart grow three sizes and inspires good work (in my opinion). This is the talk I gave and I am very happy with it. The library posted this summary of the talk (there’s no audio/video other than some blurry photos) which I think is pretty right on.

doing it right when everything is going wrong

Me at the Rural Libraries Conference

Apologies in advance because this isn’t really about libraries as much as about conferencing. Maybe more of an etiquette post than anything.

I skipped April. Not on purpose. I was supposed to go to TXLA and came down with a weird lingering flu. I’m usually a “push through the pain” person but not enough to get on an airplane with a fever and potentially make other people sick. No one needs that. So I missed TXLA which was a huge bummer. They were incredibly understanding about it. And then there was a week of school vacation where I teach so I decided to hunker down in MA and get well and make sure I could make it to the Rural Libraries conference in Michigan. Upstate Michigan. The UP, where it was still frozen enough so that the ferries we were supposed to take to Mackinac Island were possibly not running. So now I was in a situation where I was rarin’ to go but the conference might not happen at all.

My main contact, Shannon White from the Library of Michigan, did an amazing job with a very difficult situation. She gave low-drama email updates (to me but also all attendees) as we got news from the ferry and told me what the timeframe was in case we’d have to cancel. When I arrived in St. Ignace (via Michael Stephens’ place, so great to see him) the weather was terrible and the flight we were supposed to take was cancelled. Many people including us were stuck there overnight when we would have preferred to be at the conference venue, the Grand Hotel. I was put up in a decent hotel and fed dinner and we discussed jockeying for ferry positions the next morning. I had warned everyone in advance of even taking this speaking gig that I was not a morning person and someone graciously got up early and got a timestamped ferry ticket for me for later in the day. This was a huge deal.

The Grand Hotel is one of those places that is fancy but also deeply committed to service. All of their 385 rooms are different. When I finally got to the hotel at about 1 pm on the day I was speaking, I was put in a crazy-looking suite that overlooked the water. Which was terrific except that there was a crew of hotel-opener people (the hotel officially opened the day after the conference closed) that was going over the front of the place with leaf-blowers and lawn tools and who knows what else. I moved my room to an equally quirky suite on the back of the hotel where I rested after a day and a half of on-again-off-again travel.

My talk about the 21st Century Digital Divide was done in an oddly-shaped room without the benefit of slides. I’ve talked about it elsewhere (short form: people who could not see or hear me talked through it) but it was a suboptimal setup which we all tried to make the best of. I got a lot of positive feedback from the state library folks despite some of the shortcomings and they made a special reminder announcement before the next keynote about not carrying on conversations while people were speaking. I heard it was great, I was asleep. My workshop the next day about maintaining conference momentum went really well and, again, I got great support from the organizers as well as the hotel when I decided I needed last-minute handouts.

All in all, despite a situation where there were a lot of things that were out of people’s control, the conference was memorably great for me personally and I think for a lot (most?) of the attendees as well. As much as people made joking “Never again!” comments, there was something about working together in unusual settings through various kinds of adversity that brings people closer together. I felt well-taken care of and appreciated as well as well-compensated. And, personally, I had a great time. The people I talked to all felt the same. Thanks, Library of Michigan.

A few links for people who like that sort of thing

elbow grease and geocoding – making a map of Vermont’s public libraries

The really great thing about nearly any computer problem you might have is that it’s very unlikely that you are the first person to have it. So if you have access to the internet and Google (to get you to other online help sources like Stack Exchange and other random app sites) you can find a way to do what you want to do, often.

I am working on a long term project. I am trying to visit all of Vermont’s 183 libraries. One of the things I will need to do to get started on that project is to make a map. The Vermont Department of Libraries makes the location of most of these libraries available in an Excel spreadsheet (thanks!) I just needed to figure out how to make that spreadsheet into a map. I toyed around with the Vermont Center for Geographic information but was having trouble making a CSV file that would satisfy Silverlight’s obscure criteria. And then I found a site that would generate a KML file (for Google Earth/Maps) from a CSV file. And again, I was close, but couldn’t quite get it to work. Googling further I found this impressive site, BatchGeo, which basically says “Hey click here and paste your data and we’ll make our best guess as to how it works and then draw you a map!” I had decently clean data. I clicked and pasted, and this was the result.

View Vermont’s Public Libraries in a full screen map

Oddly, the same data file pasted in to Google winds up looking not quite so clean thanks to quirky handling of ampersands and the non-standard address format of the original data file. But who cares, all I needed was one map. 183 libraries (the most per capita of any state in the US) here I come! You can read more about Vermont’s libraries in this report by the Department of Libraries.

an ebook is not a book, discuss?

I had a busy week. It wrapped up in the lovely state of Maine where I got to talk about the digital divide and ebooks to a bunch of Maine librarians. The digital divide talk is probably one you’ve seen various versions of, but the ebooks one is more or less new. My assertion is that the problem of ebooks is the problem of multiple perspectives [readers and authors and publishers and librarians don't even agree on the landscape, much less the trees] as well as the problem of metaphors. At its core, one of the difficulties in teaching people about technology is that it’s teaching people to manage real invisible things [files, websites, social content] through a series of metaphors ["folders" "tagging" "friending"] that are more or less complex depending on people’s level of existing knowledge. While the printed word and language generally is something of a metaphor, you can read a book without really having to think about that level of abstraction. We’re not there yet with ebooks and the metaphors confuse the reality, a reality that is still shifting, hopefully moving towards if not some standards, at least some etiquette.

In any case, both talks are here. I got a lot of good feedback on my general topic from Twitter and other social media interchange arenas. Thanks to those who helped me with this, and thanks to the nice librarians from Maine for coming to listen and talk.

Book is out, and some other things.

I don’t think I’ve taken two weeks off from this website since it started in 1999. A short explanation is in order. I received a box with five copies of my book in the mail on May 18th. The next day I received the news that my father had died. I’ve mentioned this elsewhere and I’m sorry if I should have told you personally and didn’t and you learned about it here.

So, what might have been a PR onslaught of epic proportions–I am very proud of this book and excited to see it done and almost perfect–turned into a completely different sort of set of weeks. I’ll write more about my father on my own blog and you’re welcome to read this thread on MetaFilter which has links to a lot of things to read about him including obits in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. We’ve also set up a memory page on 1000 Memories [free forever, I give these folks the thumbs up]. My father’s death was sudden but not totally unexpected. I had a good relationship with him which was hard-won because he was a difficult and somewhat complex man. I am doing okay, all things considered. I am well taken care of. I am his executor and there is a lot of work to do.

Yesterday I started thinking about the book again. I made a facebook page for it but it also has its own page which includes the full bibliography, web links and appendix. The local newspaper wrote a little article about it and I think I can get the local bookstore to stock it. I’ll be heading to the Oregon Virtual Reference Summit in a few days to talk about Ask MetaFilter and the digital divide. I have a small pile of stuff I’ve been meaning to put here, but wanted to let people know what was up first. Let me know if you liked the book. Thanks for being here.

I’m over at boingboing for the week

For some wacky reason I’ve been asked to guest blog over at Boing Boing so I’ll be scarcer than usual here. I’m working on a post about the Gale/EBSCO thing but trying to find the hook that makes it … explicable to a plain old library user. If you have suggestions, or other things that you think would fascinate a Boing Boing audience, feel free to drop them in the comments. And if you happen to live in the Florida Panhandle, I’ll be in Niceville on Friday talking about CMSes.

the beginning of school

I’m adding another microjob to all the microjobs I have. Starting next week I will be the super-part-time IT lady at the vocational high school that I work at. This means that I’ll be the triage lady between the IT troubles at the school and the expensive tech consultants that do the networking and account management and mail server for the school. This is good news for me. I’ll even, sort of, have a classroom because there’s an empty one. I’m going to dial back my adult ed teaching in the evenings for a semester so that I can be around at night. So, for anyone curious or keeping track at home, here is my “what I do for work” list at the moment.

  • I run MetaFilter – I am one of two full-time moderators. In addition to the guy who owns the site and the coder who builts a lot of it, we’re it. Running Ask MetaFilter has taught me a lot about how people look for information and how they do or do not find it.
  • I give talks – as other people have observed, public speaking opportunities seem to be dropping off somewhat. I was turning down offers last year because I was overbooked, now I’m doing maybe one a month? Works out well for me, but it’s hardly a reliable income stream.
  • I am still automating the Tunbridge Library using Koha. It’s slow going. Some of that slowness is me, some is not. I work a few hours a week on it. We’re at the point where everything’s got a sticker and now we’re linking records to items. Exciting.
  • I’m writing a book for Libraries Unlimited about teaching people to use computers over on this side of the digital divide. Due in March and I’m doing my own index. Wish me luck!
  • I’m still doing drop-in time at the local vocational high school which is a different job from the IT job though also just a few hours a week.
  • I got a royalties check from Mcfarland for about $20 so I guess that’s sort of like a job.

I’m sure there are other things I’m forgetting. As usual, is just a hobby blog and not something that brings in any money which is AOK by me. This is post #3001 after 10+ years of doing this.

please help me get more library content into SXSW

I have proposed two presentations for the SXSW conference in Austin Texas next March. There is a complicated series of steps to determining which of the proposals will actually get picked. Part of this determination (30%) is a very basic voting thing where you can thumbs-up or thumbs-down a particular presentation. Voting is now open. We are encouraged to use our powers of persuasion to get you to vote for our ideas. I would like you to vote for my ideas. Here is a link to all of the proposals. There are over 2000 of them and 300 or so will get chosen.

My two proposals are linked here

- How The Other 1/2 Lives – Touring The Digital Divide
- Curating Cultural Content – Libraries Save Your Ass & Etchings

Voting involved signing up on the website and then clicking the thumbs up. I’d appreciate it if you’d consider doing this. I’m pretty into both topics but the first one is nearer and dearer to my heart, while the second one seems to fit in more nicely with the SXSW gestalt. A few other library-themed things you shoudl check out

- David Lee King presenting on Designing Your Customers Digital Experience
- Heath Rezabek’s Connected Youth: Austin Public Library Teens Get Mobile
- Cecily Walker’s Can I Reserve This Book With My iPhone?
- Jason Schultz’s Reading ReInvented: Can You Steal this Book?
- Tiffini Travis’s Librarian Glasses or Stripper Heels about information fluency.
- Brian Rowe’s Digital Accessibility on Ebooks and Phones : #$@^ Kindle
- Bill Simmon is also proposing a panel which I may be on: Hyperlocal Focus: Growing A Vibrant Community Media Ecosystem

And a few presentations about books more generally…

- Allen Weiner’s Publishers Look To E-Reading to Reach Digital Consumers (curious about this one)
- Travis Alber’s The Future of Reading: Books and the Web
- Dharmishta Rood’s Networked Reading: Viewing as an Act of Participation
- Aaron Miller’s Books and the Twenty-First Century – The New Realm of Reading
- Bradley Inman’s Too Busy To Read? The Future Of Books
- Two related seeming panels: Kindle 2020 and The Book in 2050

Please vote early and often and for as many ideas as you like. There are a lot of great ideas in there on related topics like gaming and accessibility and web standards. Even if you’re not even considering going to SXSW, please take some time to vote up ideas you think should be getting exposure at a web geeks conference. Thanks.

Website 2.0 – why a cms is in your future

I spent Friday at the NELA-ITS CMS Day. I gave the keynote in the morning, just talking about what CMSes are and why they’re useful with a little overview of a few, and then hung out to see other librarians talk about how they’re using their CMSes. It was a great day. We had a wonderful, if chilly, room at the lovely Portsmouth Public Library and I learned a lot about how some New England area libraries are running their library websites with Drupal, Joomla, Plone and WordPress.

Having the actual people behind these websites talking about what worked and what didn’t work — and people were very candid about what was good and bad about these CMSes — made for a fascinating day of show and tell. Add to this the fact that all the software demonstrated was free and open source and I really think we sent people away with some great ideas on how to save money and still deliver good web content. Not having the chilling effect of a vendor’s stink-eye [or lawsuit threat] was also delightful. I’m now done with public speaking stuff until October I believe. Glad to end this season on such an up note. Thanks to NELA-ITS and Brian Herzog for coming up with the idea in the first place. Notes for my talks — links to slides and a page of links to what i was talking about, are here: Website 2.0! why there is a CMS in your future. Thanks to everyone for showing up. Here are the links to other people’s presentations and websites.

hive mind, in Slate

I was interviewed for Slate about Ask MetaFilter. I like the way the article came out. When the hive mind works, it’s a beautiful thing.