According to co-founder Jenna Freedman, a librarian at Barnard College in New York City, â€œWe thought [the protestors] would need reliable sources of information in a time when all hell was expected to break loose and rumors would probably be flying around everywhere. Our job in the street was to be calm and knowledgeable and to have good resources available to us in the RR kits or at the other end of a phone.â€
It’s easy to get mad at the OPAC vendor when the upgrade to their product brings your whole system down for months, but there are many stories in that one news article. The director of that library was a candidate for ALA President last year and no stranger to automation. The library used to be a Dynix library, before it became a Sirsi-Dynix library. It is now a Polaris library.
I’m sure this story is an extreme example of OPAC upgrades going wrong, but comments in the thread and elsewhere seem to imply that it’s not that unusual and it’s a telling downside to the relationships we have with our vendors. Whose responsibility is it when upgrades go wrong? Is that responsibility codified in print? What is the library’s responsibility as far as technical staffing and maintenance of the ILS system? Who determines the upgrade schedule, and what the upgrades will consist of?
I’m not a systems librarian, I just run a lot of blogs on a lot of different servers and so I sympathize with the troubleshooting nightmare that OPAC upgrades must bring. On the other hand, this library has been using Dynix since 1985, that’s pre-Web. So — and I oversimplify here — online catalogs went “online” before they had to think about the way we’d be pointing and clicking through web-based information 10 and 20 years hence and they did some pretty cool things. For a lot of people my age, interacting with a library catalog may have been one of their first used of public access computing. Then the Web took off and the dumb terminal interface to the library catalog seemed not just quaint and outdated but an active wall between library content and library users. And what did library vendors do? And what did librarians do?
I love reading what Steven Abrams has to say about librarian 2.0 and what Liz Lawley has to say about edge cases and early adopters. I like to think that some amount of money that we’re paying for our OPAC upgrades and our buggy operating systems keeps them talking. And yet, we have few (and possibly fewer lately) philosophizing practitioners, people who can solve the problem now, not just talk about how the problem should be solved.
Moving to more open web-like customizeable user-centered content and services is a tricky tightrope walk for any company with shareholders, or one eye on the bottom line. Library patrons aren’t like book buyers — if your OPAC is lame, they’re likely not going to go to another library [though they might just leave libraries altogther, although we haven’t seen that happening]. I’d really like to know what happened to the Rochester Hills Public Library’s circulation stats when they had a lousy OPAC for a few months.
One of the things I really enjoyed about the Internet Archive Open Library project was the software they used to attempting to determine whether works they were scanning were or were not under copyright. It was an elaborate set of questions and answers with access to some copyright databases. In contrast, unless I’m mistaken, Google Books just draws a line at 1923 and assumes everything after that date is in copyright. This includes government information which as you know is made with tax dollars and generally in the public domain. So why does Google Book Search treat all post-1923 books as under copyright? Just over-cautious?
And, on the continuing thread of “no one wants my job but me” here’s another exciting installment of what my week was like.
Monday – Got up and spent a few hours doing admin work for the online community I moderate – edit/delete comments, moderate disputes, answer emails, mostly via IM and email. I helped Michael Stephens get his Blog People pages set up on his website, with some custom sidebar information and templates. Headed to the Calef Library where we get the wireless network hooked up in half an hour. My new motto “Wireless for $30 and 30 minutes!” I also configured the librarian’s laptop to get on the wireless network, freeing up one more computer for patron use. Now they have two. When I walked in and said “I’m here to install the wireless” the other patron in the library said, and I quote, “I love you!” She is taking classes at the technical college. They have wireless broadband. She has dial-up at home. She has a lot of online assignments that are pretty difficult for her to do over dial-up but the campus is 30 miles away. This solves a big problem for her.
We copied some of Boston Public Library’s instruction sheets because they’re really simple to use. While I was there I also made a sign for their bathroom to tell people not to drink the water because of coliform contamination. Their previous sign just wasn’t cutting it. On the way home I tried to stop by the Tunbridge Library to set up some evening computer classes, but they weren’t open yet.
Tuesday – Today started with figuring out how to do a screengrab of a playing DVD so I could bring this funny librarian sighting to all of you. I stopped by RTCC, the vocational school where I work, to give my boss some flyers that I made for some of the adult education classes she is offering, then I headed up to Roxbury. In Roxbury I talked to the librarian about broadband, wireless and ADA options. The library is an adorable little box of a building, with no running water or bathroom.
The town has about 500 people and getting money to build on a bathroom seems like a tough job. I said I’d look into community grants for this sort of thing, and talked about what it would take to build the library a website. I said I could make a placeholder site by the end of the day [and did] and then we could talk about specifics of a larger site. We ate cookies and string cheese and talked about rural library services and the Department of Libraries and ALA. On my way out, I checked out a video about local beekeepers showing how they track honeybees to their “bee trees.” I headed back to RTCC where I staffed a PC lab during “drop in time” The weather was pretty good, so I mostly got GED students stopping by needing help with printing and opening documents.
Right before I closed up for the day a 75 year old woman dropped by and said she’d be interested in my computer class. The whole notion of having an open lab is a little new here so I told her that while we could get her started with projects, it was mostly practice time, not class time. She lives with her nephew and his wife and they have set her up with a Mac but she doesn’t like bothering them with questions about it. I said she should come back anytime. I wrapped up the day with Michael’s good news.
Wednesday I swam early in the day and stopped by the coffee shop in town that recently added wireless to their list of offerings. I caught up on paperwork and put up a few flyers for my drop in time. As I was leaving this gal came up to me and asked what the drop-in was for and I gave a rough outline. She said she had a document on her laptop that she wanted to print and asked if we had a printer. In the area I live, there are no Kinko’s or other printing places, so you either get your own printer, go to the library, or get it printed by a friend who has a job with a printer. I told her to swing by which she did later. Turns out that she has an old Mac laptop with no disk drive. Because of security issues at the lab, we can’t put unknown machines on the network, so I told her to go back to the coffee shop and email it to me and we’d print it tomorrow. The letter was a recommendation for a kid who had worked with her who was either going to college or getting a job. The woman lives in a house with no electricity (and no Internet access) so did all of her work at the cafe or other places with wifi. We got the letter printed out on her letterhead and put it in the mail.
In the evening I talked to the Texas Library Association and the Ohio Library Council about upcoming talks I’ll be doing for them. I received a reply email from Bill McKibben — an author whose work I admire — about helping him learn to update the lecture listings on his website. He said it sounded interesting, now I need to figure out how to actually DO that.
Thursday – More swimming in the morning. While I was in the shower, an older lady asked me about my computer classes and I gave her a flyer for the Adult Ed classes as well as the drop-in time. She asked if I’d read On Our Backs magazine, and I said I had sometimes but not recently. She said she thought I might like it and offered to bring it in next time we were both going to be at the pool at the same time. I made more flyers for Adult Ed, for the gardening classes and the mother/daughter automotive repair classes. I helped the school guidance counselor put the newsletter for the school on the school’s website.
I was hoping the older woman who stopped by earlier would come by, but she didn’t. However, a local therapist who was trying to set up Excel spreadhseets and forms for her business brought her laptop by and we looked at some of the things Excel could do for her. While we were there, her husband stopped by. He is a teacher at the high school and also has a website for his business that he wanted to update with new logos. I said I could do it but I’d need some information and we talked about how website changes work. Finished up the Excel spreadsheets, talked a little bit more about Excel, headed home.
Friday – Did some community moderating in the morning and replied to a lot of emails and worked on my A List post for a while which is what happened when I tried to write this post yesterday. Headed to the Ainsworth Library in Williamstown where we dug through boxes of Gates Foundation literature and software trying to figure out if it was really worth it to install the hardware security “solution” they provided the librarian with. We did a lot of talking about technology, discussing the PC/Mac divide, appropriate secuirity for public computers, wireless options and how to work with the OPAC software they use, and get it networked on all three computers.
The librarian there also had her 14 year old son who is being homeschooled so he would pop in and out as we were talking. I fixed her computer’s speakers, we tossed out some old documentation that was out of date. She told me about a job she had interviewed for where the job was 25 hours a week, salaried, no benefits. She said the job sounded interesting, but a part-time salaried position really wasn’t likely to cut it for her. From what she had heard, the previous librarian had worked all the time and the library was unlikely to be able to find a new librarian without making the job significantly different, raising pay or lowering workload expectations.
While I was there a patron came in who had a friend’s resume and letter she wanted to print. However it was in WordPerfect format and she couldn’t open it on the library computers. I showed the librarian how to install the conversion filters into her copy of Office (why they don’t come installed, I’ll never know) and we were able to print out this woman’s resume and cover letter. When we were done, I offered to email her the converted Word documents so that she could put them on her thumb drive at home and have a printable copy. After I left the library Greg and I grabbed a cup of coffee at a cafe in Montpelier before a friend’s birthday party. I did some more community moderation stuff — someone had posted an anonymous question and needed to add a follow-up, my co-moderator had gotten back from a trip and we caught each other up on the site — drank my coffee, worked more on my A List post and went to have pizza and cake.
So it’s Saturday morning now. My partner has a shift blogging for JURIST and I’m writing this. My sister is coming to visit and I think we’ll go take some pictures, maybe go to the roast turkey supper down the road to help them raise money to put a new roof on the Catholic church. Usually I put these sorts of posts over on my other blog but since this one was all librarylibrarylibrary I thought it might work out okay here as well.