“And it’s free,” San Francisco Public Library in its own words, and pictures


Terrific long illustration of a day in the life of SFPL, by Wendy McNaughton.

EBSCO and ecards and who is setting your library policies?

EBSCO made a bold move recently claiming that libraries that offer e-cards [for accessing electronic library resources from home] are violating their licensing agreement. San Francisco Public Library has a statement on their databases page.

Special Notice Regarding E-Card Users: Due to electronic vendor licensing agreements, San Francisco Public Library must suspend issuing e-cards, effective immediately. Existing e-cardholders must validate their current address no later than April 10, 2009 in order to continue using SFPL databases and other electronic resources remotely. This validation must take place in person with appropriate identification and proof of address at any San Francisco Public Library Branch or the Main Library. The Library will continue to investigate ways of offering a revised e-card in the future. We recommend that non-San Francisco Bay Area residents check for similar electronic resources at their local public library. We apologize for the inconvenience

Boston Public Library is taking a different tack and keeping the e-card program and dropping remote access to EBSCO. Both libraries have to curtail services — and SFPL is changing their e-card policies fairly dramatically — because of this. Does anyone else see this as a shot across the bow? While I’m aware that things are tough all over, this move surprises me. Not because it may not be EBSCO legally enforcing their agreement, but because libraries with e-card options have always been offering patrons an amazing service in a way that seemed almost too good to be true. I have access to Heritage Quest with my totally free library card at the library I work at. Lucky me, but really anyone can get a card at my library — no matter where you live, no matter where you pay taxes — and get access to the same resources. I think this move, and libraries’ decisions about their responses to it, is going to be the start of a long (or depending how you look at it, continuing) struggle.

San Francisco Libraries, public and non

I’m heading home from San Francisco tomorrow. Here is a short list of the libraries I saw while I was here. Since this was a vacation in the true sense of the word, I was a little more lax in my library visiting than usual, but I did see some beauts. You may have read about my visit to the San Franscico Public library’s downtown branch which is a lovely building with some great art, but regrettably FULL of books. Full like there’s no more room. This isn’t news, but it’s sad nonetheless. Here are the other libraries I went to:

  • The Western Addition Branch. When I hear that name out loud I always think Western Edition but that’s just me being weird. This is a tiny branch in a busy neighborhood with people from a lot of different backgrounds. The library is full of books in Russian and Japanese and other languages that I can’t read at all. For a tiny space, they manage to do a lot with it, there’s a large chidlren’s area, a YA section, a place for adult new readers and a few, very few, public access computers. I sat and read here for an hour while I was waiting for a friend and it was a nice calm place in the middle of a busy city. My photos of the Western Addition Branch are here.
  • The Helen Crocker Russell Horticultural Library, which is part of the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Another incredible oasis. My friend Jane works there and took me on a tour of the grounds and I noodled around in the stacks some. The head librarian there (who just won an award) indexes the articles in a lot of the teeny periodicals they receive, making their catalog a very rich resource. My photos of the Helen Crocker Russell Horticultural Library are here but more interesting are my photos of the San Francisco Botanical Garden including a nesting hbummingbird and some random quail walking around.
  • I had a rendezvous with friends at the Prelinger Library but didn’t do as much of a tour as I did last time. I’m still in awe of the sheer interestingness of their project as well as the general grace and charm of the Prelingers in person. Every librarian should make this collection a “must see” if you’re in the Bay Area. In the meantime, you can always read the Prelinger Library blog.

SFPL and the idea of network

I wasn’t sure what to do yesterday afternoon in San Francisco, so I went to the library. The downtown San Francisco Public Library has a number of interesting exhibits

  • Snapshot Chronicles: Inventing the American Photo Album – Featuring Personal Albums Documenting the 1906 Earthquake and Fire
  • The Compton’s Cafeteria Riot of 1966: 40th Anniversary Commemorative Exhibit
  • Kalligraphia 2006: An Exhibition by Members of the Friends of Calligraphy

You can see a few of my pictures on Flickr with the SFPL tag. While I was there, I ran into a few people I sort of knew and made some plans and hung around.

Today I went to brunch with a few of my favorite librarian pals and then I went for a long walk. I left my camera and laptop at home. Since I don’t have a cell phone, this meant I was totally untethered to any of the devices I often have around me to connect me to my larger network. Sure, I had a list of phone numbers in my pocket and I’ve long since memorized my calling card number, but in general I was on my own. In Vermont I’m on my own a lot, but I’m often tethered. I have a camera, laptop, Internet, loaner computer, whatever. When I’m on the network I chat with friends, answer reference-type questions, respond to work emails, consolidate and aggregate and clean data, take notes, look at pictures, share pictures, contribute to Wikipedia, write presentations, coordinate projects, make plans.

I’m also often with Greg, and when we’re together, we co-experience many things in that “Look at this neat rock I found” sort of way. I realized today as I was walking alone with no particular destination on a lovely sunny day in a beautiful city that even while I was on vacation from the many things that I do when I’m connected, there was a sense in which I missed being in the network because I feel so darned useful when I’m there. Not that I’m not useful to the person on the street corner trying to figure out where Trader Joe’s is, or that I’m not useful to ME by getting sun and exercise. However, there is a sense of being part of something larger, of flow that I get when I’m connecting with people and information that I just started to realize I get now when I’m online as well as when I’m interacting with people in real life. Social software is, as many have said “software that gets you laid” — or, put more broadly “making it easy for people to do other things that make them happy: meeting, communicating, and hooking up.” In the same way I noticed when I started communicating more with friends who had email than those who didn’t, I now notice that I’m making more last-minute plans based on blogs and IM and chance meetings with plugged-in people who say “Yes let’s hang out” than the “Well I’ll see if I’m free next Thursday, let me call you back” crowd. I’m not saying this is admirable, I’m just observing that this is true.

This has to do with libraries for a few disparate reasons

  1. if the Pew Digital Divisions Report is to be believed, having broadband access is now a stronger predictor of online behavior than level of experience. Meaning, loosely translated, that people who have faster network connections do more online than people who have more (but slower) experience online. Libraries provide that access, librarians (can, could) provide guidance and know-how for those people who are diving into fast network all at once.
  2. When I was at the library yesterday, a librarian I’d met briefly while giving a talk months before invited me to his house for dinner, on the spot. I hung around after work, got a backroom tour of SFPL, went over to his house, met some nice people, ate some great food. Without network, befriending friends-of-friends and some degree of trust of strangers, I would have missed out on a great time. It’s not quite “getting laid” sure, but I’m 37 and fairly settled down. Think of what 20 year olds can do with this kind of power.
  3. On the way in to San Francisco, from the airport, I told the cab driver that I taught email to older people. He said he was having trouble with his email and I suggested going to the free classes that SFPL gives. He didn’t know they had them and said he’d stop in, that sounded like a great idea to him. Before I got out of the cab, he gave me his band’s MySpace URL.

Happy Birthday SFPL

Happy 127th birthday San Francisco Public Library. My how you’ve grown.

public access computing vs. OPACs

How does your library determine how many computers to “set aside” for OPAC-only use? Is that decision based on anything? At the library I used to work at, we had about 15 public access computers with fully five of them OPAC-only. The other ten computers were mobbed. TechnoBiblio looks at whose using which comptuers at San Francisco Public and has some questions as well.