brokenness and compassion

I’m a bit of a scab-picker as far as technology goes. I’m more interested in how stuff breaks than how it works when it all goes well. This is why I do more troubleshooting than tech creation. I’m good at it and I enjoy the problem-solving angles of it. As a technology instructor in a rural location, I sometimes feel like I’m dealing more with broken stuff than stuff that works. Given this, having an approach to brokenness that isn’t just “Oh, that’s not supposed to happen…” is key to helping people feel comfortable with technology. Leigh Anne Vrabel who runs the Library Alchemy blog has a concise post that summarizes a way to move forward inhabiting this sort of world.

Technology has to be supported by brotherhood, sisterhood, understanding and compassion.

And if I can paraphrase, I’d have to say “We’re all in this together and we haven’t all learned until everyone is leaning.” I’ve definitely been guilty of throwing up my hands trying to teach someone something because they had so much emotion wrapped up in why the computer “didn’t like them” that they couldn’t follow steps to do the actions they theoretically wanted to do.

Just like people who choose to live in the frozen north up here do so “for a reason” I think that most people who don’t know how to use a computer in 2009 — similar to people who don’t drive, who don’t have a telephone or who don’t have electricity — don’t know for a reason. For some people that’s an active reason, they’re not interested, they don’t see a need for it, they’re already busy enough, but for some people it’s a passive reason, they’re resistant to change, they’re easily frustrated, they have a disability that makes technology difficult and no one to help them with adaptive tech, they’re poor. As a technology instructor, part of my job is making technology a genuine option for people who have a need for it, not to sell it to people who don’t want to buy it. At the same time I explain what technology actually IS, apart from the television commercials and relentless boosterism about the promise of the Internet. That’s my interpretation of “technology with heart” [ttw]

two notes about twitter

1. I saw the Providence Public Library’s Twitter feed today and I like it. A mix of library information and links to their very amusing tech blog. I like it.
2. I just noticed Phil Bradley’s list reprinted over at Tame the Web. I’m in a weird position on Twitter because I’m followed by librarians, MetaFilter members and at least a good handful of real life friends and family. I follow maybe a ninth of the number of people who follow me. My feed is open so anyone can read it, but I can only follow so many people (and I do stay up to date on my Twitter feed pretty much always so this is important to me). Here is my version of Phil’s guidelines and there’s a sort of flow chart in effect here.
a) Do they Tweet in English (or possibly Romanian but I’ve never seen this happening yet)? If yes, go to b.
b) Are they spammers or hypesters (following over 5000 people? pushing a product?)? If not go to c.
c) Do they update more than ten times a day? If so, they’re too high traffic for me. If not, go to d.
d) Is their Twitterstream just an automated version of their RSS feed? If yes, subscribe. If no, go to e.
e) Do they @reply to people as the bulk portion of their tweets? If so, they’re likely not interesting to me (for me Twitter is like a news ticker, not a conversation). If not, go to f, g and h and choose one. If none of these apply, then don’t follow.
f) Do I know them or know why they’re following me?
g) Do I find them amusing, astute, informative or otherwise intriguing?
h) Do I want to direct message with them and find that I can’t because I’m not following them

In short, my sister’s Twitter feed is one of my favorites, followed sharply by a few bloggers I barely know and a few random librarians who amuse the heck out of me. Then there are 200 other people and all told I probably scan through 600-1000 tweets per day. This helps me feel less like I’m up here in the fortress of solitude when I’m in rural Vermont and helps me stay in touch with a lot of plugged in people in the profession. I send all of my Twitter-related “soandso added you as a contact” email to a special folder and scan through it weekly. If I’m not following you and you think maybe I might like to, please feel free to drop me a note and/or a comment. I’m not suggesting this approach for anyone else, but it works well for me.

I worked at the library today

The local library is hiring for a three hour per week job because they got some money and decided to expand the library hours. This is great news. Unfortunately, they need to hire a person to help out during some of those hours and it’s hard to find someone who wants to make a commitment for a job that pays less than $25 a week. The library — which I have been working for helping them with their website and their OPAC — asked if I would train to be an on-call librarian there and that’s what I’ve been doing.

The funny joke about all my weird techie/bloggy/travelling stuff is that I started down this path because I wanted to live in the country and I didn’t want to be a teacher, work in the post office or be a police officer. I mean I like books, love to read and love to help people, but first and foremost I wanted to be a small-town librarian. This is the first “job” I’ve had where I actually did that. All my other jobs have been at larger libraries, school libraries or the weird circuit rider library job that I mostly do now. So I got to train on things I’ve never really learned before like how to use the circulation system and the barcode reader, how to operate the lift, how to transfer a call, how to keep teenagers happy but civil, how to call people and leave a message that their books on hold are are in without saying what the book is, you know the drill.

And, it should come as no surprise that this work was hard, and interesting, and engrossing and kept me so busy I didn’t check my email for three hours which is unusual for me during a work day. Michael Stephens and Michael Casey discussed the need for many of us with specialized jobs to switch off with other people, walk a mile in their shoes, or work a shift at their desk, to get an idea of what their real challenges were. Its good advice.

One of the librarians and I had a good laugh over thinking about the idea of IM reference for the YA librarian who has to monitor the teen computer area and is rarely near her own desk. There may be ways of making it work, sure, but in the abstract it was a totally ridiculous idea given how she works. It’s good for techie people like me to know that before we start offering our oh-so-helpful advice. Anyhow, I had a good but tiring day. Apropos of Banned Books Week I also like their title “Going to the Field” which reminds me of this part of one of my favorite poems by Wendell Berry.

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

ALA, at large, not at large

I found out via a roundabout way that my bid to be the Vermont Library Association’s chapter councilor wasn’t successful. This is good news and bad news. The woman they elected was probably more qualified than me, and will probably not dislike her time on Council as much as I have historically. I am not sure if she will advocate as strongly for web site improvements and increased technological access to ALA generally, but I’m sure there are things she is planning on promoting. I would have liked to have been a Councilor representing a specific group and not just the “at large” world but I’m young and there is still time.

For me, this means that ALA in New Orleans is the last meeting I will go to as a Councilor, for a while, if not forever. This means I can, if I want, cancel my membership to ALA. It means I can plan a Fourth of July party without being on my way back from a conference. It means that I don’t have to travel out of state twice a year in addition to all the other travelling I do. It means I probably won’t try to explain some of ALA’s decisions that I find inexplicable. It means I’ll get more involved with my local chapter — the irony being that if I had been at VLA’s annnual meeting, I might have had more of a shot at getting elected, but I was in Ohio at the Small Libraries Conference talking about the digital divide, and the libraries I worked with back home.

I’ve been following some of the ALA L2 kerfuffle which I was more interested in as a friend of Michael Stephens and Jenny Levine than as an ALA member. As a Councilor, I didn’t hear word one about this endeavor. As a member, I’m not surprised that ALA chose to hire a consultant group that talked a better game than they delivered, though for them the price was right. All I know is that if your consultant starts making blog posts like this one complaining about being complained about, and not getting paid enough, it’s going to be a hard tailspin to pull out of. I wish everyone the best possible luck making the best of things.

my talk from TLA

I’m sitting in a meeting room in Houston Texas listening to Jenny Levine and Michael Stephens talk about wikis and blogs and rss. I just wrapped up my talk, which is online: Revolting Librarians Redux Review. It went well. The next talk (on paranormal romances, no joke) started in ten minutes so I didn’t get to sit around and gab with people like I usually do. Thanks very much to people who came by and said hello, and especially Jeffrey Levy for handling all of my arrangements and being a thorough and capable host/handler.

IM me. IM me?

I tried to go swimming at the pool this weekend and went through a long comedy of errors trying to figure out when the pool and/or the school that I swim at was open on Easter Sunday. The Vermont Technical College’s library, which I love incidentally, has a script running on their home page telling you when the library is open that day. This is great except when it’s innacurate. The library didn’t open at 3 on Easter. I don’t think it opened at all. The phone message at the pool said that they would open at 1, but they were closed (even though the schedule on the door said they would be open) and the phone message read the hours but then said “except for official holidays” which it suggested you call the registrar’s office for. I wound up swimming later in the day, this wasn’t such a big deal. I did get an email back from the pool coordinator (good!) which told me that the schedule on the door was correct. I had seen the schedule, and related to her that it wasn’t correct (bad!). I thought, as I often do in these situations, that this is how some people view their libraries.

However, this is a post about IM. One of the channels I tried to figure out what was up with the pool was to IM my friend Stan who goes to school at VTC to see if he knew. Through a mysterious set of circumstances, I had two Stans on my IM list (probably some aggressive renaming on my part) and I had an interesting IM conversation with a person who wasn’t Stan but who was clearly an IM reference whiz. Even though she lived hours away she gave me the best information of any of the sources I tried. Turns out she’s a librarian I knew but didn’t recognize the IM. Once I Googled her IM handle and read her blog it also turns out that we had been listening to the same Buzzcocks song earlier in the day.

This is all just a lead up to tell you to go look at Michael Stephen’s IM Reference post where he answers some questions posted by another librarian and shares some stats and links to more stats. My library, which I am crazy about, just started being available via IM and I’ll be interested to know how this works out for them.

changes in the blogosphere

Sarah, the Librarian in Black, has a new job. Karen, the Free Range Librarian, is dealing with some funding challenges at her place of work and has stepped down from ALA Council so that she can focus on work and life stuff. This has sparked more interesting discussion about the value of ALA versus peoples’ ability to substantively participate if they have limited time or financial resources. Michael from Tame the Web is condo shopping outside of Chicago, and I’ve been looking into some interesting job options for when the tech mentoring stuff wraps up in September.

congratulations michael stephens!

Please join me and others in congratulating Michael Stephens on his new job as an instructor at Dominican University, starting this Fall.

hi – 20dec

Hi. Anyone who reads this site at its web address instead of via an RSS reader will notice that the default stylesheet has changed. I modified a freely available theme because I wanted something with different levels of navigation. Thanks to another freely available plug-in you can choose the way you would like this site to appear to you. Just check the list of options under the Themes heading in the sidebar. If you’re interested in the other modifications I’ve made and plug-ins I’m using, feel free to check out this page about WordPress on librarian.net. Feel free to pick the stylesheet you like the best, or if there isn’t one that does what you want, let me know.

In other fancy design news, you’ve already seen it but I thought I would show it off: Michael’s Tame the Web blog has broken out of its default stylesheet thanks to the help of the Movable Type Style Generator and some little extra haxies, including the last.fm listing on the righthand column of the ipod blog and the custom sidebars on a few other pages. We’re still bringing the old URLs into line with the new ones and a few other things, but overall I’m really pleased with how it turned out.

tame the web blogger survey

LIS bloggers of any stripe, please fill out Michael Stephens’ survey Who are “the Blog People?” A Survey of Librarians and their Motivations for Blogging.