My local library gets an award!

Librarians at my town library — Kimball Library in Randolph Vermont — win the Paul Howard award for Courage. I wish I could say I had anything to do with any of this, but I was away at ALA while all of this was going down. This award is good news. Just yesterday at town meeting the head of our our library trustees had to defend the decisions that the library made during that difficult time whch included the fact that the library received an apology from the police for their illegal request of the library’s public computers. Meanwhile, the library has to reduce hours due to decreased funding.

Library computer seizure makes the bigtime

The incident with the library computers being taken by law enforcement that I mentioned a few weeks back has now made a splash in the big media. Girl’s case had library, cops in privacy standoff. It’s interesting to see how the headline of the same AP article changes depending on who is using it. In another place it’s titled Library confrontation points up privacy dilemma or Kimball Library required warrant to view Brooke Bennett’s record’s

my job situation

Hi. This is an update on my work situation. My boss at the high school where I work let me know that they will be discontinuing drop-in time [and the accompanying library support that went along with it] effective, well, now. I know a lot of people haven’t really understood what I did there in the first place, so let me spell it out, in past tense.

I worked super part-time [somewhere between 5-10 hours a week]. I staffed a drop-in lab two afternoons a week where people who needed extra computer assistance could come use a computer or just ask a question. I also did outreach to local libraries who had tech questions. Over the past three years, I worked with maybe nine tiny libraries; a few I worked with regularly. I also, as a separate job, taught evening adult ed technology classes. I may still do that.

Drop-in time was never super popular and on occasion it was empty. The last Summer we didn’t have a lot of attendance and so we were going to not do drop-in time this Summer. I was looking forward to some time off. Instead, the program got cut entirely. Funding is tight all over and even though my total salary there was less than 10K, it’s money that could be spent elsewhere. I’m sure there are some politics involved, but I’m lucky to not be involved with them. My (former) boss is a wonderful person. Her boss is stuck between a rock and a hard place, I suspect. His boss is the school district superintendent.

I’ve often said during my 2.0 talks that we count the wrong things in libraries. That we measure door count more than we look at website traffic. That we pay attention to phone reference more than IM reference. That we ignore certain aspects of outreach and preference “traditional” library services. I kept meticulous stats at this job. I did 105 service hours this semester. I helped 32 people, many of whom were adult ed students needing extra help. Some were high school teachers. Some were librarians. Most were active community members and I could watch their improved skillsets directly impacting the community — the garden club brochure, the choral group’s mailing list, the hospital chaplain’s holiday card list, the vocational training woman’s email address book — in positive ways. I helped older people be less isolated. I helped uncertain people feel more competent.

However, there’s no check box for “improved quality of life” on the reporting forms at the vocational high school. I’m of two minds about all of this. It feels weird to feel sort of fired. On the other hand, I know it’s not personal. I’ve also been ramping up my public speaking and spending more of my time and attention elsewhere and was, in fact, looking at cutting back hours so maybe this is a baby-bird-out-of-nest situation. I need to move on, maybe. This is not about the money, I’m set for money, incidentally. I have other jobs, they pay well.

I am welcome, I am pretty sure, to scare up grant money and continue to work there, they just can’t pay me and no one has enough free time to help me with that. I don’t want to just volunteer and I’m a little frustrated that at this point that’s the only way the program will continue. I do fill-in desk hours occasionally at the local library. One of the other local libraries would like to hire me to do ILL and automation work for them, but I’m waiting for a contract, something more than a “yeah we’d like that.” People still call me with questions and it feels really wrong to say “sorry I’m not on the clock anymore…” I like this small community and have felt useful here, much more than I did when I was a public librarian, much more than I did when I was in Seattle.

I’ve felt, without being too grandstandy here, that I’ve changed lives in exactly that way we say that librarians do that. I’d hate to think that I’m looking at a failure of marketing or “proving my value” but there’s always that nagging feeling when something like this happens. Now I have to find a way to keep “changng lives” that outside of what had become my normal routine. I talk about the digital divide a lot, and this is me and my program falling right into it. The chasm is deep and wide.

remaindered links and a short report

where you put your library fines and how the librarian gets them out

People have been sending me some great links which I’ve been consolidating for a “best of inbox” post here today. This is a rainy Vermont weekend coming up which means indoor projects and I’m waiting for the kitchen floor to dry.

The above image is from the Royalton Library up the road from here. I went there on Wednesday after recording the MetaFilter podcast. The librarian had a patron who had gotten a “free” computer (actually two) and needed help setting it up. I went over with Ubuntu CDs and a cheery frame of mind. That outlook soured somewhat when I learned more about the computers. They were given to this family by the VT Department of Children and Families. They were, I think, donated to them. Neither one worked right — one had no operating system (and a possibly broken CD drive) and one froze intermittently. DCF had given these computers to this family, this family already needing a bit of help, as a way of helping them out. All they wound up doing was giving them a project, a somewhat futile project. The mom and daughter were good natured about it, but I felt totally on the spot — if I fixed the computers, the family would have a computer. I took them home to mess with and I’ll probably just replace them with a working computer from my attic. What a pickle.

On to the links I’ve assembled.

That’s the short list for now, I have a few that are begging for more explication which I’ll be getting to shortly.

Vermont Library Association conference this Tue/Wed

I’ll be heading up to Burlington for the Vermont Library Conference both to attend and to present. I’ll be giving a talk on how I got the VLA website up and running with WordPress and Meredith and I will be presenting a Top Tech Trends talk on Wednesday. Both talks are at 1:45 if you happen to already be in the area. I’m looking forward to schmoozing with some of my favorite librarians and just generally immersing myself in Vermont library culture. Please say hi if you’re in the area.

Where is my jetpack and/or fast internet?

People in Nova Scotia were familiar with the issues I raised about the left-behindness of those still using dial-up. If you were on dial-up five years ago, or even two years ago, you could hope that some websites were still designed for low-bandwidth users. Now with the advent of AJAX as a way to increase responsiveness of websites, there is more code loading each time we visit a “responsive” page. Awesome for me in broadband-land, bad for my patrons up the road in dial-up town. So, what happened? How did we get here? How come we ALL can get dial-up and can’t get broadband?

Well, the reaons vary but they come down to a few key points, one of the major ones being regulations. This editorial from the New York Times — The French Connections (reg. required, sorry) — contains some heavy-handed language, but also some key truths about what is different about getting everyone on dial-up versus getting everyone on broadband.

[W]e’re lagging in new applications of the Internet that depend on high speed. France leads the world in the number of subscribers to Internet TV; the United States isn’t even in the top 10.

What happened to America’s Internet lead? Bad policy. Specifically, the United States made the same mistake in Internet policy that California made in energy policy: it forgot — or was persuaded by special interests to ignore — the reality that sometimes you can’t have effective market competition without effective regulation.

You see, the world may look flat once you’re in cyberspace — but to get there you need to go through a narrow passageway, down your phone line or down your TV cable. And if the companies controlling these passageways can behave like the robber barons of yore, levying whatever tolls they like on those who pass by, commerce suffers.

America’s Internet flourished in the dial-up era because federal regulators didn’t let that happen — they forced local phone companies to act as common carriers, allowing competing service providers to use their lines. Clinton administration officials, including Al Gore and Reed Hundt, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, tried to ensure that this open competition would continue — but the telecommunications giants sabotaged their efforts, while The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page ridiculed them as people with the minds of French bureaucrats.

I’ve mentioned it before but the ONLY reason that the schools and libraries of Vermont are mostly connected is because Howard Dean (with help from the Dept, of Libraries? I’m unclear on this part) made deals with the telephone companies and cable companies eager to move in to Vermont in a favorable regulatory environment and said “you want access, you wire our schools and libraries.” The question is, how to get this sort of attention for our rural populations now that the easy money and access has been taken? [thanks susan]

a week in the life, august edition

I have a month pretty free of travel and speaking stuff so I’ve been doing more little library work in August. Here are a few things I’ve done this week both here and online.

  • Stopped by the Tunbridge library in Monday to help a woman who is re-entering the workforce brush up on her Excel chops. I had to tell her that while Excel hasn’t changed much, the amount Excel tries to help the user has. That is, there are all these wizards and auto-widgets that try to make Excel easier but have the end result for novice users of making Excel harder. The main problem my student was having, however, was trying to figure out where her missing Word toolbar went and no matter how many times I said I pretty much couldn’t troubleshoot a personal computer problem remotely (and offered alternatives like a good manual or the help files) she sort of couldn’t stop talking about it. I see this fairly often. I suggested that she buy a USB drive so that I could give her homework assignments that she could take home.
  • I talked to the Tunbridge librarian about a Photoshop problem she was having which was actually a much more complicated problem. She has taken photos of flowers for the library’s flower sale, but the way they show up on the screen and the way they print doesn’t reproduce the colors accurately. I showed her how to do some color adjustment in Photoshop but said that tweaking the printer to get things just right was likely overkill for what she was suggesting. Explained how color calibration works. Sometimes good tech support involves telling people that what they want to do is going to take significantly more time than they have budgeted, and suggesting an alternate plan. This sort of time estimate thing is fairly easy for me and seems to be a big difference between someone who is really comfy with computers and someone who is still in the early stages of getting to know how they work.
  • The lady who lived next door to the library brought her laptop over to see if it had any “network card” in it so that she could use the library’s wifi instead of her dial-up. Answer: no, but I explained to her how she could buy one if she wanted to.
  • Visited the Royalton Library to help the librarian figure out why the computer keeps asking for some sort of HP Setup CD when it starts and pops up a zillion messages, sometimes freezing the computer. Figured out how to turn off the thing that requires it. The staff computer also has some sort of virus file (according to AVG) that throws up random pop-ups but we couldn’t remove it even following Symantec’s instructions. Switching to Firefox at least made the pop-up problem go away and bought us some time.
  • No one came to my Tuesday drop-in time. The network was down anyhow, for unknown reasons. The IT company who has the school contract wasn’t sure what the problem was and could give no firm ETA so I went to donate blood instead of waiting to see if anyone would show up just to tell them that our Internet was down. Even though my drop-in time is just “computer time” 90% of the people who come in use the Internet in some form or another.
  • Wednesday I went with my friend Stan to the Tunbridge World’s Fair office. They are using some sort of Fair Management software that doesn’t play nice with the network. I knew I was in over my head so I brought my pal Stan in for a consult. He mostly hammered the software into shape while I cleaned up the office, organized things, and hung up a few years’ worth of ribbons. One of the library trustees who also works part time for the fair bought us lunch and offered us free tickets when the fair starts next month.
  • I stopped by the Kimball Library in Randolph before drop-in time on Thursday. I’ve been working with the librarian who works on the website, helping make the site more functional for the staff as well as for patrons. I showed her how to get her web log files and run them through Webalizer and we looked at he traffic the site has been getting since we added the online catalog a few months back. I also helped her get a Kid’s Page started in the hopes that it will inspire the (very busy) kid/ya librarian to give us suggestions of what to put there.
  • Thursday I had one student at drop-in time, a teacher from the high school who was trying to make a list of donors for the Crafts Center Restoration project in town. Someone had typed the list up originally and she needed to know how to add a name to the list she has on the disk. She wanted to use her computer at the school but it didn’t have a disk drive. So we muddled through that and I asked if she had any other questions and showed her how to make a mailing list using her ISP’s webmail program and also how to attach a photo to an email message.

Meanwhile this week, I’ve been going back and forth with some folks from VLA about changes we’re planning for the VLA website, bought tickets to Nova Scotia for a few talks I’ll be giving there in September, accepted an invitation to join the Steering Committee of the MaintainIT Project, made plans to do some work with Casey and the Scriblio project, firmed up plans for a talk in Rhode Island, passed on a talk in Delaware that conflicted with a talk I’m giving in Kansas, and started making plans for my next week of library visits and my next month of travel/talks. I have a friend who is another local librarian who is working possibly switching her library to an open source OPAC and we’ve been scheming about that. I got my inbox down to single digits by replying to almost everyone who had written me after the NYT/WSJ articles. If I haven’t replied to you yet, I swear I will this week.

That’s the report for now. Today is a day for guests and swimming in the pool and maybe some grilling in the backyard if the weather holds.

libraries are not support systems for staff – Blyberg on “innovation”

We’re going through some growing pains at the Vermont Library Association requiring a lot of email, extended explanations and apologies, and a revisting of what is and is not “normal” for libraries and library associations to do and to know. I’ve been quoting John Blyberg quite a bit.

Some people also just don’t like to step out of their comfort zone. They don’t want to absorb new things. I was on a top technology trends panel at OLA last January when someone asked, “what if we don’t want to learn about all these new technologies?” (paraphrase). I don’t think I was in the mood for hand-holding because my answer was, “it’s your job.” Really. I don’t believe libraries are life support systems for staff. We need to work for our bread. That means that we have so stop bunting and try to knock it out of the park every single time. That takes passion, and too many people in every industry, including libraries, lack it.

State Funding for Libraries – It’s Overdue

So today I went to a meeting of the Vermont Library Association’s Advocacy Committee. The Advocacy Committee works closely with the Government Relations Committee of VLA to get stuff done on a legislative level. They act and we promote. We work in tandem.

Big news this year is that the VLA is working with the Dept. of Libraries to try to get a small amount of guaranteed state funding for Vermont’s public libraries. Currently funding is 100% local, with the exception of grant programs like LSTA, Gates Foundation and Freeman Foundation money. For most Vermont towns this means getting the budget approved in town meeting every year. Some towns have the library as part of the town government funding and some have a separate line item. Some of the towns I work with have big fights about library funding every year. Some libraries get small increases every year when they need them. In any case, Vermont is one of only six states that has no state level funding for libraries and we are asking the Governor for $1.6 million [pdf] which will give public libraries in the state the equivalent of 10% of their operating costs, or a minimum of $1500.

A concern among some of the libraries is that towns might see the state money as supplanting money the town would have to pay and libraries would actually see no net increase in funding. And, of course, in a state where people are used to being so independent, there are always concerns when money comes from the government (CIPA anyone?).

In any case I’m new to this lobbying and legislating stuff, though I am pretty good at stringing sentences together. If anyone has advice, feel free to leave it in the comments.

WebJunction “redesign” status update

WebJunction is in the middle of a design refresh project, which I guess is somehow different from a plain old redesign. For a site that is becoming a state portal for a great deal of library content nationwide, it’s distressing that only 27% of their survey respondents found the site very easy to use. It also concerns me that for a site that has been around for so long with such esteemed and established partners, they seem to still not be section 508 compliant and accessible, or at least that’s how I interpret “We are in the midst of defining some 508 remediation work“.

The only search box on their home page goes to Worldcat which seems odd considering that many of the WJ members are not Worldcat members. The entire state of Vermont for example doesn’t have many Worldcat member public libraries, but when you go look at the Vermont portal… oh hey they don’t have a Worldcat search box at all! I can’t find a discussion forum on the Vermont portal that’s had any activity since August. What I’d love to be able to do, personally, is figure out which content on the Vermont portal is specific to Vermont and what is just general information that is supposedly of interest to Vermonters. This is unlikely to happen, I think, because then it might be more clear just how little Vermont-specific content is on this portal, a portal that I’m fairly certain the Department of Libraries paid for, and may continue to pay for. The “new” Focus on VT Library Programming section mentioned on the main page is over a year old, so maybe we haven’t renewed the lease.

It is an improvement over my state Department of Libraries home page (yes that’s a 2002 copyright statement, WJs is 2004)? Absolutely. Are big projects like this difficult to do, especially when you need to cater to a group of people with a very wide range of technical abilities? Almost certainly. However I think some problems can’t just be solved by one more web page, even if it does “Improve traffic by enhanced synergy”. WebJunction does a lot of good things for a lot of people, but if you don’t already “get” the web, or if you’re not very tech savvy, WebJunction is harder to use than the average website. This passes on the “computers are hard” myth. This keeps people from getting help, because more and more people help by saying “Hey it’s on WebJunction!” Well, what if WebJunction doesn’t help? The libraries I work with are more likely to have wireless, Flickr accounts or blogs than WebJunction logins. Why? Because those things are easy, and tiny libraries find them to be worth it.