the tools and the hammer/nail problem in the digital divide

“The way you talk about the [digital divide] changes people’s view of who is responsible for resolving it…. This issue has been around for years, but its meaning is in constant flux and is manipulated by political agendas.”

I’ve switched some of the tools I use for keeping current over the past few months. I’m finding that I use RSS less and less for keeping up on blogs and rely more on Twitter lists and searches to sort of keep my hand in. I also read a lot of print material still [some of my best "things to think about" things are still coming from the pages of Library Journal and Computers in Libraries magazines] and am trying to keep to my book-a-week plan for 2011. Oddly I also get news from seemingly random places like other people’s facebook walls and I made a little image-milkshake over on a site called MLKSHK. You might like it.

I have a standing search for “digital divide” on Twitter that just auto-updates itself onto my desktop via TweetDeck. The thing that is so interesting about this, to me, is how often the term gets used and for how many different things. This morning there are discussions about the digital divide and gender, how the EU is trying to narrow the digital divide (referring to access to broadband) and a report about how switching to online social services in the UK would adversely affect people who are digitally divided already, mostly talking about seniors.

Which leads me to the paper I read recently which was really pretty intersting and on topic: Who’s Responsible for the Digital Divide? Public Perceptions and Policy Implications (pdf) It’s not long, you can read it, but the upshot is that depending how we define the digital divide, we will develop different strategies to “solve” the problem. This is not just hypothesized in the paper but addressed scientifically. So if the problem is lack of compturs, we throw computers at the problem. If the problem is broadband, we work on network infrastructure. If the problem is education we design sites like DigitalLiteracy.gov and then wonder why a website isn’t teaching people how to use computers. Tricky stuff, endlessly fascinating, thorny problem.

reading about typing – technology books

One of the suggestions I frequently make in my library talks is that one of the things that libraries can do to help patrons deal with technology is have many current books about technology for check out, and to bring these books to computer classes so people can take them home when the ideas are fresh in their minds. The whole Web 2.0-as-meme idea came from Tim O’Reilly who was looking for a way to brand a new conference about how the web was changing. I explain this to people and then I say “You probably know Tim O’Reilly, he publishes the best series of tech manuals out there, the ones with the animals on the cover…” and I’m always amazed that most of the librarians I speak to don’t actually know about them.

This isn’t totally surprising, the books cater towards a techie market, they’re expensive and many of the people who would need or want them are buying them themselves. I had them as textbooks in several library school classes. But it’s also interesting to look a little in to what the deal is with technology books and the publishing industry generally. Tim O’Reilly talks about how Amazon sees themselves (according to tax filings) as competing with not just bookstores but publishers. He has a really good follow-up in the comments section.

Let me give you an example of how today’s much more consolidated marketplace makes it harder to place publishing bets. Borders and B&N have largely thrown in the towel on many high end books, saying “Amazon’s going to get that business anyway.” So they’ve shrunk their computer book sections, and are taking zero copies of important books, even from important publishers like us. We recently told them of our plans for a Hadoop book for instance, and both B&N and Borders said they won’t carry it. That leaves us with Amazon. Amazon will pre-order only a couple of hundred copies.

I’ve had to fight with my publishing team to get this book approved, since they’re worried that they won’t make back the investment it will take to bring it to market. It’s a lot easier to be sure of making money on a book like Mac OS X: The Missing Manual, to which the chains will commit an advance order of thousands of copies. Now that’s also good publishing, but you can see how the opportunities are shrinking.

Meanwhile, Amazon is increasingly throwing their weight around. Conversations with the buyers start to sound like this: “Are you really telling me that our books won’t show up in searches unless we agree to contribute to your new merchandising program?” [emphasis mine]

I don’t doubt that in the long run, there will be new long-tail economic models that support investment in specialized forms of content that don’t have the volume to be supported by advertising, but we’re heading for a really tricky period where the old models will be dead before the new ones have arrived.

How do libraries fit into this model? We’re frequently told that we’ve got crazy buying power in the aggregate but what happens when we’re not even given the option to see these books brought to market? O’Reilly also has some interesting commentary on ebooks and their profitability that’s worth a looksee. [rc3]

Teaching Tech – a talk for the Michigan Library Consortium

I gave a talk this afternoon for a one day workshop given by the Michigan Library Consortium about teaching technology in libraries. It was a keynote-ish talk so more “big picture” talking and less “this is how we do it.”

To that end, I did a new-from-the-ground-up talk about technology instruction and even wrote out notes for all of my slides so people who weren’t there could maybe follow along later. As anyone who has seen me speak knows, I tend to extemporanize (sp?) quite a bit so while the bones of the talk are in the notes, I also told a lot of stories about the libraries I work in and waved my hands around a lot. You can see the notes and a mov or pdf of the slides here: Teaching Tech in Libraries: what are we doing?

I’m still trying to find a good way to put slideware talks online without having to re-give the talk and toss it into Slideshare. Big thanks to all the folks from Michigan for being such a great audience and Twitterfolks for giving me some good advice. (go be Flickr friends with Kevin to see more (admittedly, not that fascinating) photos of this event)

ALA study: public library funding & technology access

Libraries Connect Communities: Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study 2006-2007 Report is out today. I haven’t looked at it yet and was waiting for it to hit the website. The URL for the actual 6MB file is here

http://www.ala.org/ala/ors/publiclibraryfundingtechnologyaccessstudy/finalreport.pdf

If you bookmark the page the document is linked to it will appear as “ALA | 2006-2007 Report” on your bookmark list. While I continue to make the point that tech/web savviness is going to be an important part of being useful relevant libraries in the 21st century, we still put out documents intended to be widely disseminated in PDF format, not HTML This assures that it will be shallowly linked and quoted, if at all, and those links will be hard to track and learn from.

The one news article that I’ve read referring to this report — an AP wire article that I read in the Las Vegas Sun — “Despite Demand, Libraries Won’t Add PCs” is a weird mess of statistics and odd conclusions (won’t add PCs? how about can’t add PCs. Who did this study again? Oh right The Gates Foundation… gee I wonder what their solution to this involves, it better not be Vista. update: the geeky artist librarian agrees). It discusses how popular technology in libraries has become, but also what the limitations are that libraries are facing. The whole article is tailor-made to support a roll-out of the Gates Foundation’s next round of funding which I’m sure will nicely sew up all the loose ends that this article pinpoints.

Except for the fact that more computers means, or should mean, more staff and more space, neither of which get a lot of lip service from technology grantors who would rather give away last year’s software for a hefty tax writeoff. You’ll note that this article says that libraries are cutting staffing so they can afford more computers. I assume then that this is supposed to imply that getting more computers means more freed up money to hire staff. However, we all know, at least out here in rural noplace, that funding remains fixed as does space and what we could really use is an operating system that doesn’t need a 20MB security update every few weeks and a browser that isn’t out-of-the-box vulnerable to a huge range of exploits that leave our computers barely working. The good news is that we can get both of those things and we don’t have to wait for someone to loan us money to do it. Sorry for the slightly bitter tone, I’ll chime in with some more facts from this study once I’ve gotten a chance to read it.

librarians, technologists and free culture

A great LJ post by Ben Ostrowsky about librarians and technology and another long list of things that we should know more about. Special appearance in the comments by Ben’s Mom!

I can invent a barcode generator that prints PDFs for cheap Avery labels, but it’s the users like you who tell school librarians that it’s a great way to save money (especially if you cover your labels with library tape anyway).

I can write an article on anonymous library cards and share it freely with a Creative Commons license, but it’s up to you to share the ideas with others and implement it yourselves….

At the risk of stealing material from Christ, I encourage you to go and do the same. If you don’t have a blog, get one and get comfortable with it. Join a mailing list and ask questions. If you see a question you can answer, do it. It is so not about me. It’s about you.

a world with the $100 laptop

How does our thinking about the Digital Divide change if it were a world with $100 laptops? What if they were rugged laptops with cranks for backup power, and straps. What if they had wifi? What if all the software needed to run it were free?

other side of the digital divide

The Filipino Librarian talks about how the capacity to experiment with technology, or not, creates the real digital divide.