community technologist, on the job

This is another “what I do all day” post. Today is Monday and I don’t have scheduled classes or anything else. I handed in my article for Library Journal last night and I woke up all ready to go. I messed about on MetaFilter for an hour or so. The guy who runs the site is en route to Hawaii and we changed the length of time you have to wait before you can ask a question on Ask MetaFilter (used to be you’d wait a week, now it’s two — we’re experimenting with ways to keep the questions from flying off the front page). There was the predictable backlash and I tried to explain things and keep people upbeat about all of it.

Then I went swimming and discussed the lack of available lifeguards with the guy who runs the pool. I said I’d be interested in training if I could get a free membership or something similar. He said it sounded like a good idea. They have students as lifeguards and it’s hard to find coverage over breaks. I swam 3/4 of a mile. Then I went to the library at the same school and paid for the library book I had lost. Yes it’s true, I lost a book. In all my travels and all my book checking out from my six or seven libraries, I had misplaced this one. I thought I had returned it but it never showed up. So, I paid the replacement cost and a $10 processing fee and got to check out more books the same day. It was perfect. I said I was sorry and there was no lecture, no beatdown and no evil looks. I lost a book and I paid to replace it.

I drove up north to my boss’s house. She’s my friend as well. Together we’re bringing Randolph into the 21st Century with all our computer classes, but I digress. She recently moved and had just gotten DSL and could not make it work. I plugged it all in and yup, it wasn’t working. I did my standard unplug everything one thing at a time routine and sure enough, the splitter, the thing that she plugs her phone and DSL modem into, was broken. This was great news because it was the cheapest part of the entire equation and simple to fix, but oddly not covered in any of the troubleshooting info in the manual, even though they supply the splitter. We rejoiced and she made me lunch — homemade soup with crusty bread — and talked about our holiday plans. On my way out, I called my next stop and the lady I was visiting said “What would you like for supper?” My friend sent me home with a box of pears she had received as a gift from a friend who didn’t realize she was allergic.

I drove south to Brookfield where on of my students lives in a converted schoolhouse, the schoolhouse that she went to school in, actually. She has a killer view of the Sunset Lake Floating Bridge but it was too late to get a good photo of it. She has two developmentally disabled women who live with her and one of them uses the computer to keep a journal. She has vision problems. You can see a screen capture here, we’re talking Windows 98, high contrast, low resolution, etc. Even though Windows can do this, it’s not pretty. She bought a printer, a newer HP, and was trying to install it, but the installer program wouldn’t work on a computer that was set to less than 256 colors. I’m pretty sharp, but the computer she had, despite having a newish looking monitor, would not accept any drivers that would let it show more than 16 colors. This was fine for the woman who used it, but not for Hewlett Packard, whose installer quit with an error.

So after some more fussing it became clear that you could install the drivers for the software as long as you didn’t run the installer program itself. That is, the installer program needed 256 colors, not the drivers that actually run the printer. So I did that, changed a few things to make the computer easier for someone who can’t see very well [remove stupid login window, make talking paper clip go away, etc.] and then we sat down to supper and I heard stories of the time in 1968 when they were building the interstate and some big piece of road building equipment tried to go over the floating bridge and tipped over sideways. The truck was in the pond for two years, I hear. We had chicken and salad and biscuits and potatoes and cupcakes for dessert.

Then I came home to more MetaFilter and spent a little bit of time making my handouts for my final class in the Introduction to Microsoft Word series. One of my end of year plans is to make all the handouts available so that other people who want to run these basic classes will have an idea of how they run. I have eleven adults in my class that have basic mouse skills. The class runs for five sessions, ten hours total. We’ve been learning how to set margins, format text, and all that other good stuff. Tomorrow we’re going to learn to insert pictures into a The Gift of the Magi.

Then I wrote this, and now I’m going to bed.

UCLA taser incident, why no UCLA library voice?

What about the UCLA taser incident? Morgan wonders why we didn’t hear more about it on the blogosphere. I know that I was waiting for not just the inevitable ass-covering by the University Police, but also some sort of response from someone within the UCLA library system. I figured it would be decent to give them a chance to say something — perhaps along the lines of the Salon article that Morgan links to “I don’t like to see patrons tazed but in this case I think the campus police handled this correctly.” or perhaps something more sympathetic to the man who was tasered by campus police. But they said nothing, nothing that I could find. I was still waiting by the time I read Leslie’s letter, and Morgan’s post.

I was proud of Leslie Burger’s open letter to the UCLA Chancellor. In general I have been happy with some of the gutsy letters she’s written on behalf of libraries. There is a certain disconnect that happens when libraries have an opportunity to go on record about something that includes the larger institution that they are a part of. UCLA decides that the case is closed. What is the library’s role, or the role of library staffers, to comment on the events that occurred, events that were by all accounts the results of non-compliance with a library policy?

an exciting time to be a librarian

I was reading American Libraries yesterday and enjoyed Andrew Pace’s column on the best of 2006 (eventually online here?). The short summary is that we’re seeing new degrees of openness from vendors as they attempt to deal with a bunch of librarian consumers-turned-creators asking for more and better ways to get at their data. The thing that I think is so neat about this is how far we’ve come in such a short time. Pace’s blog entry talks a little bit about Casey’s WPopac project and mentions how maybe we should toss the term OPAC since in 2006 it’s a little like saying “horseless carriage”

While I still work with libraries that have offline and card catalogs, I think it’s okay to say that they’re well behind the curve.

Other news in a similar vein is watching data get unearthed and made available. This can be bad like AOLs big dumb goof releasing their search queries but it can also be hot like watching torrents of library catalog data showing up online, only to mysteriously disappear. I’ve been keeping tabs on another big data project involving massive amounts of LoC data that I’ll post more about once it’s in a more polished form.

At the same time, I feel like we’re at a crossroads. Vendor-aligned people talk continually about how libraries’ adherence to strict privacy and data security methods are keeping us out of the social arena, keeping us from connecting with the Millennials who, we are told, don’t care about privacy. I had a long phone conversation with a researcher for a major library services vendor recently who was not-too-subtly drawing a distinction between privacy and trust relationships in libraries and privacy and trust relationships in social networks. I mentioned that despite their seeming ubiquity, social networks are far from achieving any sort of serious penetration where I live, even among Millennials. I asked what they were doing to ensure that their study included people who were actually not online, or socially networked. The response I got was not at all encouraging, in fact it was downright embarassing.

I think people flock to libraries and social networks for some of the same reasons. They’re free, they’re engaging, your friends are there. Libraries becoming more social seems to me to be a good thing. However I don’t think we have to do this at the expense of our core values, and I certainly don’t think we need someone to sell social back to us. The great thing, the truly wonderful thing, about all this new openness is that it creates choices for us, as libraries and as librarians. Those choices, unlike our past choices, don’t need to lock us into some terrible marriage with someone who does not have our best interests at heart and that is a wonderful thing. Andrew thanks, among other people, the complainers who have been agitating for better things all this time. So for me and all my other grouchy compadres, I’d like to say both “You’re welcome.” and “There is still work left to be done.”