Digital Public Library of America – dream big

One of the sad side effects of the interesting evolution of the Google Books/Google Editions product is how many people have been saying “Libraries should have done this. This should be our territory.” While there are some great library-like digital content sites such as Open Library they’re often more concerned with curation than content creation. And we have a lot of content that needs to go digital. But who has time and who has resources?

This week the Berkman Center announced a Digital Public Library Planning Initiative, bringing together a diverse group of librarians and free culture advocates to make a plan for a Digital Public Library of America. Exciting ideas brought to the table by people I trust, about things I care about. It’s a grat time to be a librarian.

on heroism

People who follow my other online adventures may already know that I quit my library job, the automation project that I was so proud of. I didn’t really quit, I’ll still be helping, but I took myself off the project as “the person in charge of the project.”

It’s a not-entirely-long story but the upshot was that once we finished the obvious To Do list [getting books scanned and item and patron records into the catalog] the remainder of the work was muddy. The librarian and I had different opinions on what needed to happen next [in my mind: flip the switch and work out the bugs; in her mind: get the data clean and do staff training and write documentation and then flip the switch]. I realized that the quick and dirty automation project which I’d been doing for low pay, about 2-4 hours per week, that I was hoping to be finished with by early this year, was likely to go on sort of forever. I didn’t want a forever-job and couldn’t see a way to wrap it up with only my own toolkit.

I’m not entirely comfortable with the way everything worked out, unclearly and with an uncertain “what next” point. I’ve suggested someone who I think can pick up where I left off, but he’s not me and the library really seemed to like me. That said, after a lot of thinking on this, I realized that I was trying too hard to be the hero, the librarian that sweeps in and takes the tiny rural library and automates it in something akin to the rural electrification project. Cracking the whip, keeping the momentum up all the way to the end.

I really wanted to do this job, without thinking hard enough about whether the non-me aspects of this project were amenable to the task. As Alex Payne says in his “Don’t be a Hero” essay (about programming but it applies everywhere)

Heroes are damaging to a team because they become a crutch. As soon as you have someone who’s always willing to work at all hours, the motivation from the rest of the team to produce reliable, trouble-free software drops. The hero is a human patch. Sure, you might sit around talking about how reliability is a priority, but in the back of your mind you know that the hero will be there to fix what doesn’t work.

For whatever reason, I didn’t get the feeling that the library was learning to use the tools themselves, I got the feeling that they were getting used to me being available to solve problems and answer questions. I’m certain this problem is as much my responsibility, if not more, than theirs, but I’d gotten to a point where I literally could not see a way out of it. And I dreaded going to work. And I couldn’t see a solution.

The Koha consortium project in the state is doing well and I have no doubt the library will automate. The librarian wants it to happen, though her timeline is unclear. I vacillate back and forth between thinking that the work I did was uniquely valuable and integral to the library being able to automate at all, ever, and feeling like a bit of a quitter, leaving the project when it started to bog down and get tough. I’m lucky in that I have a lot of real-life and online friends who have been supportive of my decision, but it’s still one of the tougher ones I’ve made in the last few months. [rc3]

love letters to your library

anytime I need a book
photo from Contra Costa Library, thanks!

I got an email that ALA’s @yourlibrary site had redesigned and I went over there but found it’s the same old clutter of information. It is possible I’m getting curmudgeonly. I also got an email from former co-Councilor Heidi Dolamore who is working on an advocacy project that I like much more: the Pinole Library valentine campaign. The Pinole Library’s website is here. You can see that the library is open 24 hours a week over four days. They’re starting a campaign to show how much people support the library by having people write notes on these valentines.

Surathani public library

Hi — I hope you had a nice holidaytime. I’m back in Vermont. I went to two public libraries when I was home for the holidays, one in Boxboro where I grew up and one in Cambridge which is newly renovated. I made a list in 2009 of all my library visits and I’m sure I’ll bore you with it shortly. For now I’m catching up at home. There is a push on MetaFilter [in case you're someone I know from both places] to help the daughter of a MeFite fund some libraries in China. I just donated in memory of Evan Farber and Judith Krug, two librarians who we lost in 2009 who I miss frequently. I also got a link from my friend Casey to this set of photos on Core77 of a small public library in Surathani, in the south of Thailand. Pretty stories, lovely photos. You can also contact them if you’d like to donate books.

what is the rule when taking photos in a public library?

Things with the Des Moines Public Library worked themselves out more or less amicably. I was also pleased to see Carolyn Wright who does the Photo Attorney blog, mention what the legal issues are surrounding photography in public libraries generally. Thanks Carolyn!

dudes! did you see the library they’ve got here?

“[W]hile I’m here on campus, my life is totally going to revolve around that library. “

what’s the real story behind Brooklyn Public’s removal of TinTin from the shelves?

Not trying to start a flamewar here, just thinking that this NY Times blog piece about an old racist Tintin book may be a little off. According to the article…

[I]f you go to the Brooklyn Public Library seeking a copy of “Tintin au Congo,” Hergé’s second book in a series, prepare to make an appointment and wait days to see the book.

“It’s not for the public,” a librarian in the children’s room said this month when a patron asked to see it.

The book, published 79 years ago, was moved in 2007 from the public area of the library to a back room where it is held under lock and key

The article also has, even more interestingly, some of the actual challenges filed by BPL patrons in which the patrons’ addresses are removed but their names and City/State information are published. If your name is unusual redacting your address doesn’t really protect your anonymity. I’m curious what the balance is between patron privacy and making municipal records available.

update: I got an email from the patron whose name I used asking me to remove it. I have done so.

Louisville Public Library needs help and good thoughts

I was following the Louisville Free Public Library disaster/flooding yesterday via Greg Schwartz’s tweeting and twitpics but I was travelling home. Today, there’s been time for more recapping and reflection from the online community including this very good and succinct post from Rachel Walden: How You Can Help the Louisville Free Public Library Recover from Disaster. Upshot: don’t send books, consider contributing to the LSW fundraising drive. Send Greg and the other employees your best wishes

another rock and roll library from someone you may have heard of

Former Clash guitarist Mick Jones “a prominent figure in the punk rock movement of the seventies and eighties, opened his Rock-n-Roll Public Library in London yesterday.” The library is, technically, an art exhibit, fyi. More about Jones in this Telegraph article. [ellareads]

using YouTube to promote fun library activities

So I gave a talk at NJLA, one of my favorite talks, called Advanced YouTubery. Brett Bonfield saw it and liked it and took some of the ideas to heart with this fun video promoting the Collingswood Library’s 5k race to raise money for a teen area in the library. Neat.