One of the funny things about librarianship, to me, is how much of our collective “hive mind” type of knowledge is wrapped up in mailing lists and their online archives. I still subscribe to at least four library-oriented mailing lists though in many cases I have a web-based option for following along as well. I’ve recently become aware of the “Best of PUBLIB” website which has a nice categorized interface to some of the best “strings of comments” that have shown up on PUBLIB. The other lists I read are Web4Lib which I read via the web and VTLIBRARIES and VLABOARD which, to be best of my knowledge, don’t even have public web archives.
Roy Tennant has a short reflective piece on the occasion of Web4Lib’s 15th birthday.
It may seem like this is a self-serving message designed to solicit “good job” replies, but that isn’t my intent. I started the list because I personally wanted help, and that’s exactly what I got. I’ve had 15 years worth of other people solving my problems and giving me useful advice. If there is a balance somewhere keeping track, I’d expect it to be sinking on the side of what I owe you all, not the other way around. Thanks for being here,
But I do have a backlog of things to tell you about and only a medium amount of time to tell them to you, so I will be a little brief. I have been in New Hampshire peeking in at some of the election stuff and visiting with friends and now I’m really going to get going work and travelwise starting tomorrow. While I did my reading wrap-up here, I did my swimming and guestroom wrap-ups over at jessamyn.com. This year I may try to revive my “libraries visited” list now that I’ve got Flickr to help me out with the organizing, but it’s too early to tell if that will really work.
I’ve been to one library this year so far, the all-new Sargent Memorial Library in Boxborough MA. The library was way the heck up a hill and in a teeny building when I was growing up and we went there all the time. The librarians were always encouraging me to read whatever I wanted and my Mom stopped in often to get the new Ed McBain mysteries. The library outgrew its space and an all-new library was built and opened in 2005. I went there with my Mom yesterday and said hi to the library director who said she reads my blog (hi Maureen!). The last time I went to the old library as a patron I was probably in my late teens and I don’t think they even had computers yet. The new library is huge and lovely and has wifi. It’s also walking distance from the elementary school which is good news all around. It was fun to pop in there and get a real eyeful of how things have changed.
So here are a few things I thought you might be interested in, and my apologies for the brevity.
- A few books about libraries. The LA Times has an article about Don Borchert’s book Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library and Scott Douglas reminds us that he has a book about working in a California library as well, Quiet Please.
- Lichen Rancourt is going like gangbusters at her new job at Manchester Public and she has a great post about how she’s creating and importing events lists into their library website despite being locked inside a city-wide CMS that they can’t control. Some good back and forth between her and Brian in the comments too.
- Speaking of back and forth the most recent Pew Report has some interesting stats about how people go looking for information. I haven’t read it yet, but there is some discussion over at web4lib both about how their conclusions seem a little strange relative to the data but also discussion about a study about user satisfaction, sort of an exit survey. The formatting on that page is terrible but it has links to more information.
- This seems like it will be a fun party or set of parties at ALA, and c’mon bring a gently used book and get a FREE DRINK? Almost worth the train ride to Philly.
I read the web4lib mailing list in RSS format. It’s fascinating because not only is there a lot of good advice, and a lot of familiar faces, but I also learn a lot in terms of what people do and do not know about technology which helps me do my job. There are also some more thought-provoking longer threads sometimes about things like the 2.0 bandwagon, whether Twitter/Facebook type applications are a flash in the pan, or the recent thread about whether libraries innovate.
It all started, I think, with a lita-l mailing list topic that I didn’t see concerning the “ultimate debate” happening at ALA. The event was blogged on the LITA blog and debated a lot on web4lib though the thread is sort of all over the place. And then the topic was picked up by other blogs, which someone on web4lib graciously added to the mailing list as a list of links.
I wonder about the topic myself. The libraries I work with around here are very innovative, but mostly in stretching a super-small [usually five-figure] budget and rarely in technological ways. However, when you’re the only free internet in town, taking a step like offering free wifi when the library is closed, or having a way that people can use your computers to download ebooks checked out from other libraries in other states seems pretty innovative indeed.
From the web4lib list: “We are gathering data for our presentation at this year’s LITA National Forum. Our presentation is “Putting all the Pieces Together: Building a Cyberinfrastructure at the Georgia State University Library”. We invite you to participate in our survey regarding the technologies and web services you are using in your library.”
FLOSS is an acronym standing for Free/Libre Open Source Software and it’s the term people use when they’re trying to describe the intersection of what’s free and what’s open source. Eric Goldhagen gave a great talk about FLOSS (ppt) at the Simmons Skillshare and sent us off with a list of FLOSS tools that can replace what we’re already using in libraries, from Open Source IM clients to whole free operating systems. It made me happy, then, to read about Howard County Library in Maryland moving to a user experience on their computers that they call Groovix. This web4lib post has the details but it’s an ubuntu-based system that covers all the bases of what people use PACs for using free (not always open source) tools. They end their post with this note
Howard County Library is a pioneer in Maryland in using Open Source software on public and staff machines. Because Open Source software is available free or at a very modest cost, the Library can provide public computers at a fraction of the cost using comparable commercially-available software.
Sounds neat, doesn’t it? I’ve often though, and said in my talks, that a lot of software problems are management issues disguised as money issues. We say we can’t afford to change, when what we mean is that we don’t know how. FLOSS-curious? Check out this Wikipedia Free Software portal. Yeah I said Wikipedia, for all of its flaws, at least they’re not trying to sell you anything.
When we’re not doing the coding ourselves, sometimes it’s hard to make sure that a website or technology project goes the way we want it to. Learning to communicate expectations before the project really gets going is much better for everyone than trying to retrofit your desires post-launch. The web4lib list, which has been interesting reading in all sorts of ways the last few weeks, has a short discussion about why web standards are important. Thomas Downling explains the ethical obligations and why standards compliance is not as hard as most people say and Karen Schneider follows up with a warning about holding your ground about standards when talking to vendors. Carrie Bickner Zeldman wrote an article about standards for Library Journal in 2002 but the information is just as important, and I’d argue easier to implement, today.
Small update and interesting sidenote. Even though the web4lib content is being presented in blog format, it’s not really a blog. That is, you can’t comment using the comment form without being a list member. Not that this is a bad thing, but it is definitely a repurposing of the blog format in a way that produces unexpected results. Anyone who doesn’t know about web4lib should read up on it. Maybe it’s the librarian in me, but I think the list of guidelines for list behavior is sane, thoughful and thorough.