on casual research and a 2012 wrap-up

Happy New Year! (LOC)

My year-end 2012 was pretty mellow. I’ve been doing the same technology instruction and teaching at the vocational high school and the occasional local library fill-in shift. I’ve gotten more active in VLA and in the new Rural Librarians Unite group. I had a very busy April-June speaking season which I enjoyed and didn’t do any solo talks after June. I’m upping my rates for 2013 which may seem counterintuitive. I’d like to continue to do public speaking but do fewer events (or more local events that I do for free or cheap) for the same general income. The end of the year was a quiet time to reflect on the value of the work that I do and the work that others do in getting the word out about library technology and technology culture. And there were many people having discussions about the value of libraries, and whether we (or the media) are even asking the right questions. I read these posts with interest.

A lot of questions at the end of 2012 and we’re working towards answers. I have a more hopeful feeling at this year end than I’ve had in a while. One of the things I’ve been doing a lot of these past few months is online research types of things. I was elected a local Justice of the Peace and started a “What is a Justice of the Peace” type of blog called For Great Justice and I posted daily from the time I got elected until January first. Turns out that this JP business isn’t that fascinating and so I had to dig deep into archives and/or special collections to find stuff that was notable and would interest me as well as modern-day Tumblr readers. And it was difficult, really difficult.

It sounds funny, but if there was ever a time that I was wishing for a Digital Public Library of America, these past few months have been it. Not so much because of all the other good reasons but because I would love some standardization of query languages, results formatting, rights statements and just general user experience when I am trying to find something in an online archive. I am aware that asking people to just do things differently does not work and is a crazy thing to request. I am not asking for that. But I am aware, more than usual, that leadership is needed if we want to make the United States’ cultural content accessible in some sort of aggregated fashion.

I am also aware that these archives have evolved organically and most of the time the people involved made mindful decisions about how they wanted things to work. Other times it’s clear that the archives had purchased off-the-shelf archiving software and made the barest of adjustments. People and libraries don’t have a lot of money or time and I get that. At the same time, trying to do a basic set of things

- search for the bound phrase “justice of the peace” (the individual words return too many non-relevant results)
- return results in a way that allow me to sort by relevance or other options
- at a speed where I could browse results and easily check out 10-15 results in 10-15 minutes (or more quickly, optimally)
- in a way that let me know the format of the items in my search results (jpg, pdf, text) and optimally limit by those formats
- in a way that I could know if the item I had searched for was available to be viewed or not
- with sufficient help files that if these things were possible, I could determine it on my own

These things were things I could almost never do. I wound up doing more searching in places like Google Books and Flickr Commons than in library archives even though the library archives often had more relevant content simply because I had limited time and a limited frustration level and I had to make some choice. I am a power searcher. If this is what I am doing, knowing it’s sub-optimal, what are our less power-searcher users doing?

So I’m back to wood shedding, reading and learning more about the digital divide and about how people learn technology and bringing forward my experiences with searching and not-finding to see if I can make something out of the experience that is helpful to other people. I wish everyone peace and joy in this bright new year.

library blogs & news quicklist

I don’t get time to sit down and read blogs as much as I used to, but I still see them scooting through my feed reader, or in the profiles of people following me on Twitter, or sometimes just linked in random places. A few I’ve been enjoying lately.

using tiny tech to solve problems in Vermont

I talk a lot about how availability of free online tools is really helping small organizations get things done. Here is an example in a note that came across the Vermont Libraries listserv this week which I’ve reprinted with permission.

In our rural state, many libraries are staffed by a single staff person, or by a very small staff. This can make it a challenge to accomplish large projects within a short time period, have an extended vacation, or take advantage of a professional development opportunity. Also, those librarians who work part-time sometimes would like to expand their experience, network and income with additional work within their profession.

The Vermont Library Association (VLA), Green Mountain Library Consortium (GMLC) and Vermont Consortium of Academic Libraries (VCAL) are excited to introduce the Vermont Library Substitute Pool!

Here’s how it works:

If you would like the opportunity to sub or temp at a library in your area, or are seeking freelance work or volunteer opportunities, simply fill out the Vermont Library Substitute Pool Form at http://www.vermontlibraries.org/vlspform.This form populates a document, maintained by a joint VLA/VCAL/GMLC volunteer, with your interests and contact information. Your entry will
be available for one year to libraries looking to fill a need.

We particularly encourage current library staff and volunteers interested in exploring work in other kinds of libraries to sign up for the sub pool. For example, if you are a school librarian interested in finding out what it might be like working with children or teens in a public library setting, the substitute pool could be an excellent opportunity for you.

We anticipate that there will be a mix of paid and unpaid opportunities available.

Libraries looking for a volunteer, project temp, or other such staffing need, will be able to request a single log in to access the data. To do so, please contact our Vermont Library Substitute Pool volunteer, Helen Linda, at addressremoved@gmail.com with the name and email address of your library representative.

The VLA has also provided a space to list ongoing Volunteer Opportunities at libraries, http://www.vermontlibraries.org/section/volunteers. If you are a library who has opportunities available, please consider posting them on the site. Please contact the Vermont Library Association (http://www.vermontlibraries.org/leadership ) if you are interested in adding an ongoing volunteer opportunity.

We currently have 55 people on the list and they represent every county in the state (most of them selecting multiple counties). Below is the breakdown of current availability:

  1. Chittenden: 27
  2. Washington: 21
  3. Addison: 16
  4. Franklin: 15
  5. Orange: 18
  6. Windsor: 16
  7. Caledonia: 14
  8. Lamoille: 14
  9. Windham: 11
  10. Rutland: 8
  11. Essex: 8
  12. Bennington: 7
  13. Orleans: 6

protecting privacy in libraries

Judah Hamer, the current president of the Vermont Library Association, wrote a good opinion piece in the Burlington Free Press responding to a parent’s editorial concerned about Vermont’s new patron privacy laws. I think it’s always a good idea that official-type library people spend the time to outline just why we feel privacy is important and speaking up in order to dispell rumors that spread about what did and did not happen in a given library dispute.

VLA and VSLA pass library confidentiality bill

This is big news. The Vermont Library Association and the Vermont School Library Association have succeeded in passing “An Act Related to the Confidentiality of Library Patron Records” which tightens up some loose areas in Vermont’s current patron confidentiality laws. The governor signed the bill on Tuesday, just in time for the Vermont Library Conference.

You can read more about the process of getting the bill drafted and passed by looking at the Intellectual Freedom section of the Vermont Library Association website. Minor point of pride: I designed the VLA website, enabling just this sort of information sharing and updates and it makes me happy to see it being used to announce such good news.

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.

hi – 27nov07

Hi. I used to start quite a large number of these posts this way, but I haven’t lately. This is just a little heads up about a few things that you might be interested in.

  • I’m adding a little holiday sidebar with a few links to things you can get your favorite librarian. I’ve seen a few things where I’ve been like “Oh, isn’t that clever/appropriate?” so I figured I’d add them. The woodblock link is to a MetaFilter buddy who makes and sells amazingly lovely woodblock prints and has a little “help me advertise” program that I figured I’d help with. If you have other links, to your own stuff or great stuff from others, add it to the comments and I’ll put it up. I’ll take the sidebar down after the holidays. Please don’t get me anything, I have all that I need.
  • I may not have mentioned it here, but I took the Vermont Library Association website and ported it over to a bloggish format using WordPress and a few choice plugins that do things like put the jobs on their own page withough putting them on the front page, and allow people to add posts that are also events on the sidebar. I’d love to say that it went off without a hitch but the process was a little bumpy, mostly because of difficulty figuring out who had passwords to which pieces of the site. Folks, make sure you get this stuff in your binders! The switch from having one webmaster to making groups more responsible for their own content is a challenge as well. I’m lucky to be supported strongly by the VLA president as well as Judah Hamer from my former library who does the diplomacy stuff while I do the coding stuff.
  • I’ll be speaking at a conference in Dubai at the end of next week which I am very excited about. My friend Step who you may know from her various blogs is working at Zayed University and I am speaking at their conference and then Step and I are leading a blogging/wiki workshop. It will be the first time I’ve been out of the country to a non-English speaking locale (I know many people speak English, but not compared to Australia or Canada) in years. I am making an assumption that there are not many librarian.net readers in Dubai, but if anyone is, please look me up.

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.

choosing your battles and choosing your professional associations

Karen Coombs talks about a reaction she had a while back to a comment on her blog where she was considering her commitment to the Texas Library Association. I think for many busy librarians the question of how much to participate in how many professional associations is one that we have to continually revisit. There is also the related question of how long you need to try at something before you decide it’s not working and moving on to trying something else.

After I cycled off ALA Council, I decided that I wanted to step back some and spend sometime reacquainting with my local library association in Vermont, so I didn’t renew my ALA membership. I joined VLA at the conference — where I gave two talks, or I gave half of two talks — which meant that my annual fee will only pay for seven months of membership (all memberships expire on 31dec. That said, membership is cheap). I didn’t feel obligated to join since I’m not technically a librarian for my job but I felt it would be a good idea. Before I officially joined, I was still receiving the newsletter and I was on the mailing list, so I’m not sure what joining technically gets me except the ability to be elected to an office which is not something I’m seriously considering at this point. I joined a committee — the advocacy committee — but had a difficult time making the meetings that were scheduled a few weeks in advance all over the state. Most meetings at VLA seem to happen in person. My speciality is, as you know, online communications and tools so a lot of what I had to offer the committee — custom RSS feeds and news filters, custom email addresses, web site updates, blog creation, “email your legislature”, setting up little websites — were all sort of outside the range of what we were considering and no one on the committee had access to the VLA website to make changes to it. I did manage to get the Library Value Calculator up on the website, but it involved a few days of work just getting that to happen and when it was announced on the list, my name wasn’t mentioned. This is a world I am getting used to.

Meredith has written a little bit about our experiences working with VLA. Unlike in a giant organization like TLA, I know most of the members of VLA either personally or by sight. It’s a tiny state. Membership is up from the high 200′s to about 400 now which is pretty exciting. I had a great time at the conference and I introduced myself personally to the incoming president who I heard had some bold new ideas for getting the word out about the importance of libraries (making the newsletter not a perk for members only, ditching the print newsletter in favor of a digital one, using email and blogs for communicating, more online communication and tools etc). What I told her, which is true, was that I’m not blessed in the tact department but if there is a computer or technological problem that needs fixing, I’m one of the more capable library people in the state to do it. The VLA conference allowed me to meet a few more people in the state who are also capable and techie and I have a slow but inexorable plan to Make Things Work Well. I’ll check back in next year and let you know how it’s gone.

VLA Wrap-up

I just got back from VLA where I gave two half-talks over two days. It’s fun getting to hang out with local librarians. Most of the time I view conferences as a way to meet up with friends and see new places, but the VLA conference is actually good for old-fashioned networking (with new friends who I will see new places with in the future, I am certain).

My first talk was about CSS and I mostly did the intro while Jessica Allard did the bulk of the talk. My second talk was What’s What With Wireless. I gave an overview and then Carl Zeller from Teconic, who I had worked with when I was at the Rutland Free Library, did the safety and networking aspects of it. It was great to do split talks. I think the audience really gains a lot from multiple perspectives even if, as with the wifi talk, the presenters aren’t even always agreeing with each other.

Last night I went over to UVM and hung out with the Vermont Area Group of Unix Enthusiasts (VAGUE) and had pizza and talked about Ubuntu and yes, my little video which has now passed 27,000 views on YouTube, almost surpassing the population of my county. I talked to them about Koha and LibLime and Evergreen which no one there really knew about. They repeatedly apologized for the dark dank basement as if I was familiar with perhaps being someplace else, but I really like hanging out with nerds and geeks. I plan to go to the developers conference in Boston and let them know what library/librarian users might like to see out of an open source desktop OS. I encourage other librarians to go.

A few other things I learned:

  • The VLA Intellectual Freedom Committee is working on strengthening the library privacy laws in the state of Vermont.
  • The new incoming VLA preseident-elect is the assistant director of the library I used to work at, and I got to meet him at the conference.
  • One of the Department of Libraries’ Regional Consultants uses Ubuntu and has some experience in/interest in using Evergreen as an ILS.
  • The current (as of yesterday) president of VLA has some interesting ideas about new directions. I introduced myself to her and said “hey I’m short on tact, but I’m pretty good at getting technology projects working, consider letting me help out with the back end on your projects” and she seemed to think that was a great idea.

I’m sure there’s more but I’m operating at a sleep deficit and a keyboard overload so I’ll add in more when I remember it. Thanks to everyone who made my trip to Burlington fun and interesting.