2013 in libraries

Daytum Wrap up of 2013 in libraries

I tracked the libraries that I visited this year, like every year. I have also done this in 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009. Ten years ago I did a short list of library visits where I actually reviwed the places I’d been. Ah to have that much free time!

I went to thirty-eight different libraries in eleven states for fifty-six visits total. Just a little more than last year. I’m sure I have forgotten some. Here’s the short annotated list of what I was doing in libraries last year. Top three libraries are the same as every year: my local public, my local academic and my summer local. All great places.

  • Hartness/Randolph VT – have not been here so much in the latter part of 2012, but this is still one of my favorite academic libraries.
  • Kimball VT – my local, I don’t work here as much but still go here all the time.
  • Westport MA – summer library, good for DVDs and other vacation-style stuff.
  • Plymouth State NH – gave a talk, saw the library. A neat looking place, with a cool clock in the entryway.
  • JoCo – Desoto KS – a tiny town with a great library where I checked my email while there was a rainstorm.
  • Ashtabula Public OH – stopped by on a road trip and saw a lot of people with fishing poles. A quirky big library.
  • St. Johnsbury VT – was here for the Hug the Library event during the unpleasantness.
  • Minneapolis MN – hadn’t been here since the redesign. Enjoyed its shininess.
  • Natick/Morse MA – killing time between friends and dinner, this was a great place to hang out.
  • JoCo – Lackman KS – said hello to Josh Neff here!
  • Beloit Public WI – lovely library, stopped in on a road trip and enjoyed myself. Fancy and shiny and new.
  • St Paul MN – met a really nice librarian who told me some great history of the place.
  • Harwood HS, Duxbury VT – my friend Meghan works here, stopped by the say hello.
  • Manhattan KS – the public library when I was in town to hang out with my friend Donna.
  • Beebe/Wakefield MA – such a neat place with a great bee-themed marketing campaign.
  • Giamatti research center NY – Baseball Hall of Fame! My friend Paul worked as an intern, was fun to look through scrapbooks.
  • KState KS – Donna gave me the grand tour and we got to see the basement.
  • Nebraska Library Commission NE – said hi to the terrific Michael Sauers and gave a talk here.
  • Brookfield VT – first time in a tiny library so close to home.
  • Omaha Public NE – big and beautiful and got to meet the woman who does programming there.
  • Roxbury VT – another favorite one-room library, haven’t been there since they got a bathroom installed.
  • Somerville MA – killing time before the movies, this library is always busy and has a lot going on.
  • KANEKO-UNO Library NE – an arty, somewhat private library, we took a brief look around. Very cool space & collection.
  • Brown/Northfield VT – lovely merging of old and new buildings.
  • Chelmsford MA – saying hi to Brian!
  • Boston Public MA – a nice place to chill on a chilly Boston day.
  • Providence RI – Surprised I hadn’t been here before. Neat old building, oddly underused, it seemed.
  • Lawrence KS – in an old Borders building while they renovated. Quite busy.
  • Windsor VT – checking out the seed library, great photos of local residents.
  • Hartland VT – stopping by because I was in Windsor, before Amy got there, I think.
  • New Bedford Pl MA – amazing building and we got to peek at some of the artwork they were restoring.
  • Topeka/Shawnee KS – a great tour by David Lee King, consummate friend to librarians everywhere.
  • Lincoln Public NE – stopped in before dinner with Michael, busy and overtaxed.
  • Merriam Park – St Paul MN – smaller neat suburban library.
  • Union/Tiverton RI – so cute, so small! Librarian so friendly!
  • Ashland NE – stopped by when I was on a drive. Neat old building, soon to be renovated, amazingly friendly and helpful librarian.
  • Carney/Dartmouth MA – gosh I love this weird place and I want to go back there all the time.
  • Monmouth/Manalapam NJ – doesn’t look like much from the outside but has a lot going on.

I had such a good time visiting all of these places. I can get sort of schmaltzy sometimes but I think the public library system in the US is a truly terrific thing. Here’s to another great year of library visits.

On government and libraries – two important things

1. Supreme Court KIRTSAENG v WILEY decision came down, supporting first sale doctrine even for copyrighted works made abroad. This is good news for Team Library. Here’s more analysis from ACRL that declares it “a total victory for libraries”

2. Now that we’ve gotten a nice little bump from the We the People petition to increase the public’s access to the results of publicly funded science research, let’s keep pushing for more access to (and funding for) government information.

Petition: Require free online permanent public access to ALL federal government information and publications.

More explanation over at FreeGovInfo.

LACMA launches new collection site with 20k public domain images

The Los Angeles County Museum of art said on their Tumblr on Friday “Dear Tumblr-verse, Merry Christmas: we just gave you 20,000 high-resolution images, for free. Now we have just one question: what are you going to do with them?” This announcement is a next step in LACMA’s ongoing experiment to open up more of their collections to the public, via the public domain. They have more discussion and explanation on their WordPress blog. Do any search on their new collections website and you can limit your search to only those with unrestricted images. And then you can take those images and do… whatever you want. There is still a wordy Terms of Use page that people may want to dig through but the upshot is that folks should go use these photos, for anything. Stick them in Wikipedia, use them on your flyers and blog posts, use them for your album covers, put them on a t-shirt. Thanks for trusting the public, LACMA. Lovely stuff. Here’s the pull quote from their website that sums up why they did this.

Why would a museum give away images of its art? As Michael Govan often says, it’s because our mission is to care for and share those works of art with the broadest possible public. The logical, radical extension of that is to open up our treasure trove of images. When we first launched our early experiment with giving images away online, we heard a resoundingly positive response from many quarters: school teachers, parents, graduate students, journalists and the occasional creative person interested in printing their own Mother’s Day cards. So far, we have yet to hear of a situation where one of our public domain artworks has been misused or abused.

some show and tell

Just having one of those days where I am in favor of a picture-based approach to what I’ve been interested in.

awesome box

Press release | official website

raspberry pi running an OPAC

Run your OPAC on a min computer that costs under $50.

Local Tools has software for tool lending libraries

Prefab Library, the library website service

Another victory for public and open access

If you paid for it, you should be able to read it. For publicly financed science research, the Obama administration agrees.

I’m aware that this decision wasn’t just because of this We The People petition (which I signed) but it’s nice to think that the petition has an effect. Read the entire memorandum here (pdf) and here is the short post on the White House blog about it. The Association for American Publishers is in favor of this move, in contrast to their strongly worded opposition to the FASTR Act, a bill endorsed by many library associations. Read more about the Open Access to Research movement.

This is yet another “big deal” open access move in what is starting to look like The Year of Open Access.

I got a Kindle

kindle with custom screensaver on

I am aware that I am dreadfully behind the times, but the Kindle I wanted finally hit a price point that I felt was worth it and I got one: a Kindle Keyboard 3G/Wifi model. It’s nice. I’ve been tinkering with it. Here are some initial impressions.

1. Now that the Kindle Fire and other fancier ebook readers are out, the older ones are relatively inexpensive. While you can still buy this model new for low three figures, I got it refurbished from ebay for $50 delivered and was happy about it. Didn’t come in an Amazon box. Just showed up in some bubble wrap with a cable. Fine by me and super cheap for worldwide low-end 3G and an “experimental” browser.

2. I am mostly interested in using this when I travel for the free worldwide-ish internet access as well as being able to carry a lot of books with me on a long trip. I still prefer paper books but am at the point where I need to have more working knowledge of ebook readers than I have. We lend them out at the library that I occasionally work at, but that isn’t enough. I am not interested in buying a lot of new books. I am not interested in creating any more of a relationship with Amazon than I already have. I have a loose relationship with copyright laws but that doesn’t mean that you should, necessarily.

3. First step: hacking it so I can do what I want with it. I do not want their default screen savers. I do not want to pay them to convert things to PDF for me. I do not want to only buy things from the store, I don’t really care about the store. I don’t like the blinky page turning effect. A quick google brings me to this page. I follow a few instructions and I have my own screensavers and a jailbroken Kindle. I also read more about the blinky page flashing effect and why it exists (and that the alternative is often ghosting which would drive me crazy) and I’ve decided to stick with the blinky and learn to live with it, even though it’s nice to have options. I am not messing with the default fonts, for now. I am not installing KIF the Kindle interactive fiction interpreter, for now. I am okay that I will miss out on Amazon-only releases, for now.

4. Second step: get some books. As I said, I wanted to see how much I could do with this without involving Amazon. I’m not anti-Amazon so much as I’m just Amazon-agnostic and don’t want to have my device talking to them about me. There are basically three main ways to get books on to the thing: buy them, steal/borrow them, create them.

As much as I love the DIY Scanner idea, it’s a ways off for me. So I’m going to focus on the middle option.

First option: I went to Listen Up Vermont and gritted my teeth through the terrible interface (which I hear is changing), found a book I wanted to read, went to check it out, tried three different library cards until I got one that worked. Then got to the Amazon page and had to log in there as well. Did not want to register my Kindle. My only option at that point was to read the book in the “cloud reader” [i.e. on their website]. Okay. No way to download a book without becoming an Amazon customer. I’m sure this is not news to anyone who has a Kindle, but I hadn’t really tried this all out yet. This whole process took far too long.

Second option: Open Library. Found a book I wanted to read. “Checked it out” via Open Library’s nifty checkout options. Not even sure which library card I used, maybe it was just me being in the state of Vermont. Checked out the PDF of the book. Downloaded it to my desktop via Adobe Digital Editions which did not require me to register for an account but did have less functionality if I didn’t register which seemed okay to me. Could read it on my desktop. Was prohibited because of DRM from reading it on my Kindle. In the interests of science I tried to figure out how to get this to work anyhow. Spent a lot of time on this website reading about Calibre and the DRM and ebooks generally. Don’t let the post dates fool you, this is a fairly up to date blog. Calibre is a great ebook management tool that follows in the steps of some other open source tools in that it doesn’t break DRM itself, but you can obtain plug-ins that will do the DRM-breaking if you want. It also does a lot of other great things like allowing you to edit ebook metadata and group and organize your ebook collection. You can also use Calibre to format-shift your ebooks to and from various formats. I took the DRM off this ebook and then moved it to my Kindle. It’s not so great to read there because it’s in PDF format but it was good for proof of concept. 500 page PDFs are just not awesome for reading.

Third option: piracy. Most of the time if you search for a reasonably popular book using the title and other words like “mobi” or “epub” you can find forums where people upload pirated copies of these books to filesharing sites like divshare or mediafire. It’s worth noting that the Apprentice Alf website that helps you break DRM explicitly says that breaking DRM to upload books to piracy sites is an explicitly uncool use of DRM end-running which is the position I agree with for the most part. I tried the pirate download options with a book I already had in hard copy and found not just that book but a bundle of five other books by the same author. Downloaded, unrar-ed drag-and-dropped to my Kindle. Started reading. No passwords. No failures.

And as far as the reading experience, I’ve taken to it much more quickly than I thought I would. This is, of course, what everyone but me thought would happen. The Kindle is light, the back-forth buttons are simple and not accidentally clicked. I like being able to look up words in a dictionary without moving more than a few fingers. I like that it knows where I left off. I like getting to toss a book out when I am done with it. All in all my conclusions are much like the ones I was nodding my head with at the In Re: Books conference. Ebooks readers are great and improving all the time. It’s the ebooks themselves–the DRM, the bad user experience, the complicated and wonky checkout procedures, the lack of privacy, the changing restrictions we deal with as libraries, the terrible websites our vendors create–that are not just suboptimal but at the center of a bad user experience that we’re in the awkward position of promoting as if it were our own.

So, mixed feelings of course. I’ve gone to bed and read my Kindle most nights this week and enjoy it. I still can’t look a patron in the eye and explain that they need to go through a bunch of bad websites, log in at least twice and create relationships with multiple vendors who are not the library in order to check out a book from us. Here’s hoping the landscape will change for the better. Here’s suggesting we do what we can to help that happen.

Original “comics are bad for you” research declared shoddy. Thank your librarian.

Behavioral problems among teenagers and preteens can be blamed on the violence, sex and gore portrayed in the media marketed to them – that was the topic of televised public hearings held by the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency in 1954 to address the scourge of comic books. The hearings, which resulted in the decimation of what was an enormous comic book industry, had been inspired in large part by the book “Seduction of the Innocent,” by psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, based on his own case studies.

Wertham’s personal archives, however, show that the doctor revised children’s ages, distorted their quotes, omitted other causal factors and in general “played fast and loose with the data he gathered on comics,” according to an article by Carol Tilley, published in a recent issue of Information and Culture: A Journal of History.

Here’s a nice interview with Carol Tilley, an assistant professor at the iSchool of Illinois who also presented a talk at the recent ALA Midwinter conference. Her article Seducing the Innocent: Fredric Wertham and the Falsifications that Helped Condemn Comics is available to people with access to that sort of thing. More about Wertham from the Library of Congress and some more information from the library’s in-house newsletter. Here’s the text of the book, online but with different images (some images still NSFW).

Should it be okay to sue librarians for saying your books are bad?

Learned about this story two days ago and by the time I could put something together it has zipped around the internet already. Long story short: blogging academic librarian (and librarian.net favorite Dale Askey) makes negative probably-factual statements about a publisher. Publisher sues librarian and his current employer (who was not his employer at the time of the blog post) for millions of dollars for libel. Not okay, right? While the suit will probably prove groundless, it’s a waste of people’s time and money and an assault on the idea of academic and intellectual freedom. Please inform yourself and spread the word about Edwin Mellen Press’ wrongheaded decision to sue a librarian for writing about his negative impressions of their products.

  1. I first read about this here. Additional links including the “notice of action” are here.
  2. Specifics at Inside Higher Ed here
  3. Read the deleted-but-archived blog post in question here.
  4. McMaster’s public statement is here.
  5. A very nice “What can be done” assessment. In short: consider removing any automatic purchases from Mellen Press
  6. Dale’s blog and his twitter feed
  7. BoingBoing and Gawker have taken notice.
  8. If you are the petition signing type, please sign this petition.

storytime: hunting a time capsule at NYPL and elsewhere

Thomas Lannon occasionally posts on NYPLs blog. He is the assistant curator of their manuscripts and archives department. He also figures into this Fast Company story about a time capsule created by a group called the Modern Historic Records Association. The time capsule was never found, not exactly, but this story, an early example of the LOCKSS (lots of copies keeps stuff safe) phenomenon does have a happy ending, thanks to some sleuthing and some librarians.

interview with Michael Barera, Ford Presidential Library’s new Wikipedian in Residence


White campaign tab with “WIN” in bold, red letters accompanied by a small red fish.

I had read with interest the articles that came out recently about the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library getting a Wikipedian in Residence. For more info, see this a short article about the library’s exhibits coordinator Bettina Cousineau talking about the library’s participation in the GLAM-Wiki Initiative (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums with Wikipedia), and a little more about the Wikipedian in Residence program.

I think this program is nifty and I was excited this time because the WiR is a Master’s student at the University of Michigan’s iSchool. I dropped him a line and asked if he wouldn’t mind answering a few questions. Here is a small Q&A (done over email) with Michael Barera about his new internship.

JW: The Ann Arbor Journal says you’ve been a Wikipedian since 2001. Is that a typo or have you been an editor there for over ten years? In any case, what first brought you to Wikipedia or the Wikimedia school of websites? What is your favorite thing about working on Wikipedia?

MB: 2001 isn’t exactly the true year that I started on Wikipedia: I found the site first in 2005, and made my first edit in 2006. 2001 is the year of the oldest photograph that I have uploaded to Wikimedia Commons, so in a way my contributions go back to 2001, although I didn’t edit Wikipedia or Commons until 2006. I was actually introduced to Wikipedia by my high school Western Civilization teacher in 2005, which is interesting because most people don’t have such an academic entry into the site: perhaps he was part of the reason why I’ve always taken it seriously.

For the first year or so, before I made my first edit, I used Wikipedia essentially as an extension of my social studies textbook: I’ve always loved how much more inclusive it is than the mainstream social studies curriculum in this country. My favorite thing about working on Wikipedia is sharing everything I’ve created or contributed with everyone in the world. We all chip in a little, and because of the CC-BY-SA and GFDL licenses, everyone gets to share and enjoy in the totality, all without ads or paywalls or subscriptions. I love the fact that it really is “the free encyclopedia”, both in the “gratis” and “libre” senses of the word.

JW: You went to UMich for your undergrad work and now you’re pursuing your Masters at the School of Information. Is this internship a natural outgrowth of what you planned to do at the iSchool or is it more of a side hobby that turned into a big deal? What are your interest areas at the iSchool?

MB: The beautiful thing is that it is both part of my career plan at SI and an outgrowth of a multi-year hobby. That’s why it is so perfect for me, because it allows me to use both my U of M bachelor’s degree (which has a concentration in History) and my knowledge and experience with Wikipedia, all in one package. In terms of my areas of interest at SI, I am specializing in Archives and Records Management (and maybe dual-specializing in Preservation of Information as well), but I’ve really enjoyed everything I’ve taken so far, from human interaction in information retrieval to Python programming to dead media. SI really is a perfect fit for me!

JW: Sort of a silly question but are you literally “in residence” meaning that you get to go work at the library? Or is it more of a virtual residency?

MB: I’m literally “in residence” at the Library four hours per week, but as you know Wikipedia can’t be confined to just one place at a certain time, so there is plenty of spill-over above and beyond these four hours. It is rather interesting to have an internship that literally bleeds into my free time, but I love editing Wikipedia, so I can’t complain!

JW: This project seems like it’s sort of a trial partnership experiment for both Wikipedia and a US cultural institution. What are you hoping will come out of this partnership in addition to the stated goals of making more of the library’s public domain holdings available via Wikipedia?

MB: Well, to be fair, a number of US cultural institutions have already had Wikipedians in Residence: the National Archives and Records Administration, the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis, Consumer Reports, and the Smithsonian Institution have all beaten the Ford Presidential Library and Museum to the punch. For me, the biggest goals of my internship (in addition to the obvious desire to improve content on Wikipedia) are to foster and maintain a relationship between the Wikimedia movement and the Ford as well as to encourage content experts, like the people I work with at the Ford, to create Wikipedia accounts and to become Wikipedians themselves. I know it can be daunting at first, but there are lots of long-time users who are happy to give their help and guidance, myself included. We won’t bite the newcomers!

JW. Do you feel a little odd about being in a fishbowl with all of your Wikipedia edits and actions being visible or is this par for the course for you? What do you think is people’s largest misunderstanding about Wikipedia?

MB: Well, all of my Wikipedia edits and actions have always been visible (that’s the nature of the MediaWiki software), and while there is certainly an upsurge in media attention and awareness about the internship or me specifically, I don’t think that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people paging through my edits or watching my talkpage. On Wikipedia, I still feel like a private citizen: I think most of the media attention has been at a very basic level, and I think some of it struggles to grasp the nuances of what I am doing or even the structure of Wikipedia itself, which brings me to your last question. In terms of people’s largest misunderstanding about Wikipedia, I think it is the simple fact that we are an encyclopedia: a tertiary source without original research. We are not a blog or a forum for anyone to post whatever he or she wants to post, but rather a dedicated and thoughtful group of “collectors” trying to assemble the world’s best encyclopedia piece by piece, bit by bit.

I think we sometimes get lumped in with other social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, and while there are a few commonalities (like the fact each is made up of user-generated content), Wikipedia really is a lot more like Britannica than it is like a blog, at least in terms of the content itself and the work that goes on behind the scenes.

[these are follow-up questions from a few days after our initial exchange]

MB: I’ve always loved how much more inclusive it is than the mainstream social studies curriculum in this country.

JW: I’m with you there. Are there any particular examples that stand out to you?

MB: During my elementary, middle, and high school careers, I discovered that my history/social studies education was essentially a history of Western Europe and North America. While the curriculum has improved dramatically in terms of coverage of Native Americans, African Americans, and Asian Americans in the last few decades, there is very little Latin American, Eastern European, African, Asian, or Oceanian history taught at the primary or secondary levels in this country (and just about all of it directly impacts the United States, typically in negative ways, such as Vietnam’s one cameo appearance in American history during the Vietnam War). I think the heart of this issue is the old belief that history is “national myth-making” is still alive and well in this country, at least below the post-secondary level.

On the other hand, I absolutely loved how different history is at the college level: as an undergrad at the University of Michigan, it was refreshing to take history courses covering nearly every corner of the world that both attempted to show that country’s perspective and then critique it at the same time. My modern French history (1871-present) and Soviet/Russian history classes were the best examples, and I would highly recommend my professors, Joshua Cole and Ronald Grigor Suny, to anyone: they do it the right way, and I for one wish I had more exposure to that kind of “real history” when I was younger. Long story short, Wikipedia is much more like this post-secondary, “real history” than “national myth-making”, so I always enjoyed how much more objective Wikipedia is (although not perfectly objective, of course).

JW: One of the things that has been challenging for me in Wikipedia outreach is trying to convince people that they don’t need to get someone to do the editing, that they can be bold and dive in. Do you have any particular approach to trying to get people to get comfortable making their own edits?

MB: My advice for getting people to start contributing is simple. The next time our hypothetical potential editor is on Wikipedia, I would encourage him or her to create an account and then just stay logged in while reading articles. Anytime he or she spots a small error, such as a typo or punctuation issue, he or she should just go ahead and change it. Actually, an account isn’t even needed: readers can (on most articles) make such minor corrections without an account, too. Still, this notion of starting small is the real key, in my opinion: just start with the little things and become comfortable with the editing interface (and the notion of editing a wiki itself), and eventually that new editor will feel comfortable making larger and more substantial edits. That’s how it was for me many years ago.

JW: Are there other online reference sources (crowdsourced or not) online that are your “go to” sites when you are trying to do research either for Wikipedia or your other projects?

MB: The resources I use for referencing Wikipedia articles are broad and diverse, and they range widely from topic to topic, as is to be expected. One commonality, though, is that I use a lot of newspaper and journal articles: in most cases, they are reliable secondary sources that are very good at establishing the core facts that lie at the heart of the Wikipedia article. One hint for maintaining NPOV is to try to recognize the different sources and balance them with each other. For example, on the article on the 2001 Michigan vs. Michigan State football game, I made sure to use both the U of M and MSU athletic departments’ press releases and game notes.

And, in an even better example from my work on the article Queens of Noise (The Runaways’ sophomore album from 1977), I tried to effectively balance multiple perspectives on the content, including the recollections of Jackie Fox and direct quotes about specific songs and events from Joan Jett, Cherie Currie, and Kim Fowley. Most interestingly, that article includes two separate (and contradictory) accounts of why Jett sang lead vocals instead of Currie on one of the songs, one given by Fox and the other by Currie. The key is to make it clear who is saying what where, and so like the “real history” taught in colleges and universities across the nation (and the world), the article has become an effort to show the different perspectives in conversation with each other instead of just giving one point of view (as is the case with “national myth-making”).

JW: Cheers and thanks for doing this for me.

MB: My pleasure! Thanks for the interview, and take care!