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.

some interesting reading/commenting from MeFi

I had been holding off on linking to the Web Tech Guy and Angry Staff Person video/blog post because I have mixed feelings about the idea generally even though I know it was a big hit when they showed it off at the conference. Then it hit MetaFilter and I found the discussion there helped me not only flesh out my own feelings about it but gave me a look into how other professionals from different perspectives saw it. Most notably, I was interested in this comment by Larry Cebula who works for Washington State and runs an award-winning northwest history blog.

I work for the Washington State Digital Archives. We have something like 80 million documents, mostly from Washington State counties, online and add millions more per month. After years of resistance the counties are really hopping aboard and have become great fans of our service.

But still we get these complaints and worries. It is even worse with archives than museums because so many county and local archives count on revenues for access to fund their offices. We are about to put up thousands of cases from county courts, some dating back to the late 1800s. But the county insists that we display only the top half of the first page of each record–and charge 25 cents a page for users to even view the records beyond that first half page! It is anti-democratic and eliminates many of the potential advantages of digital history, but there you have it.

Slightly related librarian topic over at AskMetaFilter, a question about questions: What questions do library users most often ask?

Libraries’ Surprising Special Collections

Smithsonian magazine wrote a neat article about libraries’ special and interesting collections. Alas, they forgot to include links to any of the cited libraries’ websites. Someone from MetaFilter, actually a librarian pal of mine who works at Harvard, picked up the torch and started a thread with many more excellent examples.

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.

where else besides the library can I ask a question online?

Brian has a few suggestions for other places to go online to ask questions or read other people’s answers. As you probably know, I work for Ask MetaFilter and I’m pretty happy with how it all works out, getting people answers to their questions. I’ve asked thirty questions there myself. Here’s a screenshot of what I think is a pretty usual list of questions.

php for librarian

donnagirl asks MetaFilter: “I have two weeks to learn PHP. Help me make a plan! Because my library job is ridiculously awesome, I’m being given two weeks to devote myself to learning php.” Good advice follows from the hive mind.

ReadMe, a readers advisory sort of wiki page

One of the types of questions we get a lot in Ask MetaFilter is “what book should I read on XYZ topic?” It’s one of those questions that the hive mind is actually good at answering because it’s just brainstorming and list generation by a self-selected group of people, not the “do I need to get this wound looked at?” sort in which you really shoudl ask a doctor. So, someone on MetaFilter decided to organize these questions into a wiki page. MetaFilter has our own wiki where a lot of information that may not need its own home on the site can reside, and where users can contribute content directly. The page is called ReadMe and contains a categorized list of over 650 topics on what to read, linking directly to the Ask MetaFilter thread where the topic was discussed. There’s even a section about libraries. It still needs a bit of tweaking, but what an awesome resource and a good concrete example of the nifty aggregating effects of blogs, and the “anyone can build something” effects of wikis.

books change lives

This isn’t specifically about libraries, but I know that many librarians consider Neil Gaiman a member of our tribe, since he’s so bloggeriffic and knowledgeable and appreciative of our profession. So, I thought you’d enjoy this story about how Neil Gamain pitched in to help scifi fan Jason propose to his girlfriend during a book signing event. Here’s Jason’s blog post explaining how it all went down. Neil Gaiman says it was his favourite bit of his visit to the Phillipines. [mefi]

cross-site promotion, are you on metafilter?

Me and the nice people from MetaFilter are starting an ambitious back-tagging project where a team of volunteers will be adding tags to the 42,000 posts that were on the website before we added the tagging functionality. We’re hoping that this will make it easier to track down double-posts and related posts and make browsing the site via tags a little more thorough. I envy sites like Flickr that have had tags since the beginning, doing it this way is hard and not at all optimal. In any case, if you have a MetaFilter login and would like to do a little volunteer tagging, please drop me an email or (preferably) an IM with your usernumber and I can get you set up.

weeding and noisy libraries, a community response

Simon Chamberlain’s VALIS blog points to a bunch of responses to the Wall Street Journal piece about what they see as aggressive weeding. He gives two nods to MetaFilter, one for the discussion about the WSJ thread [which I participated in] and one for a related thread in Ask MetaFilter asking when libraries started being so … noisy. One of my favorite things about these discussions is the interactions between librarians and non-librarians in a non-library setting. The other thing I like is that thanks to MetaFilter’s use of the XFN protocol I can link to every library worker I notice in these threads as a “colleague” and then keep track of their posts and comments. Look at all those librarians talking to each other, and to their once and future patrons.