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.

a separate post – talk about my new job

OpenLibrary front page

I promised to write about this a few days ago and it’s been, quite a week. Short version: starting May 1st I took a job doing user support for Open Library. It’s very part time, very fulfilling and a lot of fun.

Longer story: MetaFilter, my internet home for over a decade and my employer for almost that long, has been going through some challenges. There was a severe financial downturn (the site is nearly 100% advertiser supported, allowing them to have nearly eight full time employees) and staffing was going to have to be reduced. You can read about some of that happened on Search Engine Land or Matt Haughey’s post on Medium because this was basically a weird “I wonder what happened at Google?” situation. We’d been facing decreasing revenue for about eighteen months and things weren’t improving. As the person in charge of running the site but not managing the money aspect of it, the last year and a half had been really bad for morale. Not knowing if your job was going away, getting gloom-and-doom reports from on high, not being able to plan for the future because you don’t know if there will be a future, are just destabilizing and not allowing me to do my job to the best of my ability. I have a longer version of this that I’d be happy to explain over a beer or two, but that was the general gist.

And ultimately, as much as I loved what I’d built–Ask MetaFilter is one of the best Q&A sites around, bar none, the moderation team is the best group of moderators there is, period–my “career goals” such as they are weren’t with website moderation, they were and remain with libraries. So when stuff started getting hairy in late 2012, I decided I needed a non-MetaFilter hobby, one that was library related, and I decided to talk to the Internet Archive about helping out with Open Library. Open Library, if you don’t know, lends ebooks worldwide. Worldwide. It’s a cool project.

I hadn’t known at the time that Open Library was a bit of a ghost ship, being kept alive and online but not really in active development. I put my head down and just started answering emails, reporting bugs, being the change I wanted to see in Open Library. And once the writing was on the wall at MeFi, that I could stay on as the oldest employee but in a work situation that was more “Everyone works all the time” which was no longer something I wanted to do, I talked to the Archive about getting an actual job-job. I made a data-based pitch “Look, I answered 7000 emails last year and rewrote the help pages and FAQ, user support is probably something that either needs more volunteers or a paid staff member” and they agreed to take me on as a part-timer to keep doing what I was doing, and maybe do a little more.

So I still answer emails, but I also attend staff meetings (via Skype) and have the keys to the Twitter and the blog. It’s weird working in a free culture type of place but still working with Adobe’s DRM nearly every day. I made a graceful mod exit from MetaFilter and I still continue to hang out there, because why wouldn’t I?

Long range I’m not sure what my plan is. I’ve got the same adult education job in my small town in Vermont and don’t plan to leave that. I still write a regular column for Computers in Libraries and I’m still on the road doing public speaking stuff about once a month (contact me if you’d like me to come speak at your event) which I may ramp up depending on how this all goes. I still have a lot of Vermont libraries to visit. I’m trying, despite my tendency to overwork, to take the summer at least partly off. And one of the things I want to do, oddly enough, is spend more time on my blog, writing down more of the things I am working on, in a place that’s mine and not MetaFilter’s.

That’s the news. I’m excited to get back to working more with libraries, all kinds of libraries.

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.

theming it up for 2013

I’ve been doing a lot less public speaking this year, by choice. Just trying to travel less, be more of a homebody, be choosier. I just noticed that I haven’t mentioned any of the talks I have been doing or will be doing, so this is the post that clears that up. I have done three talks this year, all thematically related. You may be able to detect the theme….

1

Basically they summarize what’s been going on in the world of Fair Use the past year (a lot!) and then talk about what libraries are doing and what they can do. I also talk a bit about my work for Open Library where I am volunteering doing email support, helping people freely download and read ebooks through the Internet Archive‘s somewhat quirky interface. It’s challenging and fun. The two are related but maybe not in the way you’d think. People who are curious about Open Library or maybe helping out a little, please drop me an email and I can talk more about it at length.

A few upcoming talks, most on the far horizon. In August I’ll be in Lincoln Nebraska talking to rural librarians about technology use and training. In April of next year I’ll be at both TXLA (my favorite state conference I think, though there are many close seconds) and then at the Michigan Rural Libraries Conference on Mackinac Island. If you’re going to any of these, please let me know.

2012 reading list, a year end summary

I’ve waited til the new year to write this list up. I’ve spent the first few days of the new year finishing up a few books that were lingering on the nightstand. Here’s the complete list, you’ll notice that I only finished some of the books in this photo which was my “to read” pile on 1/1/12.

Here are previous year end lists: 2011, 2010, 2009, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004. My booklist lives over on jessamyn.info/booklist and it has its own RSS feed.

number of books read in 2012: 53
2011: 56
2010: 48
2009: 39
2008: 31
2007: 53
2006: 60
2005: 86
2004: 103
2003: 75
2002: 91
2001: 78

average read per month: 4.42
average read per week: 1.02
number read in worst month: 1 (Feb/Dec)
number read in best month: 11 (July)
percentage by male authors: 75
percentage by female authors: 19
fiction as percentage of total: 51
non-fiction as percentage of total: 49
percentage of total liked: 94
percentage of total ambivalent: 4
percentage of total disliked: 2

My reading is really getting to be consistent. I read about a book a week, split between fiction and non-fiction. I like most of the books that I read. I read a lot in July and not so much in December or February. Still no ebook reader, though I’ve been using my iPad more to watch Downton Abbey while I am on the treadmill. One book took me the better part of a month to get through (Quammen’s book about the Dodo and other extinctions) but it was well worth it. I read all the Hunger Games books in a little over a week and while I think that having read them is good for me as a librarian, I felt pretty “meh” about all but the first one, which surprised me.

A few podcasts I’ve been in recently

marconi company radiophone set
Image from Radio Telephony, in the public domain

I was interviewed by Steve Thomas for his Circulating ideas podcast a few weeks ago and interviewed by Kayhan B., Erin Anderson and Doug Mirams for their Bibliotech podcast a week earlier. I don’t listen to many professional-type podcasts but both of these conversations were a really good chance to talk over some of the issues facing the profession today in addition to just me going “bla bla…” about myself. Both shows have had a host of other guests and I’ve been digging around in the archives finding other stuff to listen to. If you’re podcast-oriented, these are two shows to put in regular rotation.

a few unrelated talks & travel

The interesting thing, to me about being known as an “influential librarian” is that sometimes when life gets busy people still know you as a blogger even if you’re not doing much blogging. I’m in the process of selling my house/barn–not the place where I live, but the “camp” of sorts that I have in northern Vermont–which has meant an awful lot of finicky projects and less leisure internet time. Not complaining, just explaining. Combining this with May/June being one of the busy times for public speaking and I’m becoming one of those can’t-wait-til-summertime people.

I’ve also been doing more work at MetaFilter. You might have read about a particularly weird event on our site in Gizmodo last week. Most of that happened while I was on the road in various places. I know we talk a lot about the “library anywhere” model, but with the funding structure of libraries, that sort of thing is really tough/complicated/impossible though it’s a vision of mine, right up there alongside, ironically, living inside the library. The two trips that I took were short ones. Here’s the description of the trips and talks.

1. I went to Montreal to go to the Mixmedias conference which was all about online community. I was invited to speak to talk about how I do what I do on MetaFilter. It was a small newish conference, but happening alongside a larger web conference and one all about smart televisions, something I know very little about. My talk “Markets are Conversations: creating and managing desirable online communities” was pretty well received and it was neat to be someplace where I got to talk to a lot of other people concerned with and working on online community ideas.

2. I went to one of my perennial favorites, the Maine Library Association conference in Orono Maine. I did a keynote/luncheon speech called Achieving Tech Literacy which was sort of the “Where do we go from here?” talk. It’s all new, not really a digital divide talk per se but more how to we get to the point where we have a rising tech tide that really DOES lift all boats, not just wash some of them entirely downstream, to strain a metaphor. I was very pleased with it and with the conference generally.

Both the drives allowed me to do something else I’m working on which is taking photos of more of Vermont’s 251 towns so that I can complete my “plus” membership in the club. Not that I get anything special from this, but I’m a completionist and this has been a fun project. I’ve been to all the towns but only photographed less than half of them. Upcoming talks include the LACUNY Institute next week, a NELA-ITS event (another perennial fave) and Charlotte/Mecklenburg County. This was all looking like a nice fun schedule a few months ago, now it’s looking a bit hectic. Please say hello if you see me zipping by.

Big Talk From Small Libraries – free online conference Tuesday Feb 28th

I am doing a new thing this year. Well I’m doing a few new things overall, like learning ukulele, but one big thing professionally. I’ve decided to try to do a few webinars, both attending and presenting, to see how they go. In the past I’ve sort of skipped webinars on principle. I find the software difficult and it’s challenging for me to talk about good technology when using bad technology. I’m also just not that good at presenting to an unseen audience. However last year I was invited to do a lighting talk of a sort and I enjoyed it; it was even pretty low tech, using Skype to connect. There was a lot of back and forth on Twitter and good feedback/questions which was different from the last webinars I did several years ago where I wasn’t even sure people were tuning in at all. I’ve also noticed there have been a few one-day events that have gotten people talking that I might like to attend. So I’ve been exploring. Who knows, next thing you know I may start reading ebooks….

So, this is a long way of saying that I’ll be presenting with a bunch of other great librarians at the Nebraska Library Commission’s Big Talk for Small Libraries conference this Tuesday. You can see the schedule here (be aware it’s all in Central Time) and read the FAQ here. With eight speakers who are all people who work in small libraries, over 300 attendees, and a homegrown back channel, I think it will be an interesting day. Free as in beer. I think it will be a good time.

2011 reading list, a year end summary

Books
Image is by shutterhacks

I did a lot of reading-while-traveling this year. I got a lot of travel books from random library booksales. I’ve still been reading in paper-book form, as much as I see the compelling argument for ebook readers, I haven’t made the switch. Here are previous year end lists: 2010, 2009, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004. My booklist lives over on jessamyn.info/booklist and it has its own RSS feed. Here’s the wrap-up of what I read in 2011.

number of books read in 2011: 56
number of books read in 2010: 48
number of books read in 2009: 39
number of books read in 2008: 31
number of books read in 2007: 53
number of books read in 2006: 60
number of books read in 2005: 86
number of books read in 2004: 103
number of books read in 2003: 75
number of books read in 2002: 91
number of books read in 2001: 78

average read per month: 4.67
average read per week: 1.01
number read in worst month: 2 (Feb/April/Dec)
number read in best month: 10 (July)
percentage by male authors: 72
percentage by female authors: 28
fiction as percentage of total: 54
non-fiction as percentage of total: 46
percentage of total liked: 92
percentage of total ambivalent: 5
percentage of total disliked: 2

I read a lot of books by a few authors that I found and liked the year including Tana French, Geraldine Brooks and Connie Willis. Still not really on the ebook bandwagon. Still enjoying reading paper books in bed. Still finishing a few books I started in 2011, I expect this trend to continue. Wish me luck, and happy reading in 2011! Feel free to link to your own reading lists in the comments.