me interviewed for the library school newsletter I used to edit in 1993

When I went to the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Washington, there was a newsletter called the Sojourner. I was the editor my first year. It was a print newsletter. Now the newsletter is online and they interviewed me talking about how the library school (now the iSchool) has changed, what I’ve been up to and what needs fixing in libraries nowadays.

my first audiobook – a day in the life

I had a long day at work today. I went to teeny library number one and noticed their Internet wasn’t working. Apparently it had been down for days, a service guy was on the way. I climbed around under the desk and found that the computer was plugged directly into the wireless modem which was in turn incorrectly plugged in to the cable modem. Bad ports all around. The cable was working fine. Then I went to the basement to mess with the three donated computers. They are from an insurance company. They run Win2K which is not bad in my neck of the woods. I plugged them all in and started them up and was asked for a 25 digit license code. “Hey did these computers come with any software?” I asked. “Just what’s on them.” the librarian told me. I gave her a brief rundown on how to ask the insurance people nicely if they have software licenses for the software they sort of gave us and, if they didn’t, what our legal and non-legal options were. But that isn’t what I wanted to talk about.

What I want to talk about is audiobooks. I was present at the downloading of my other teeny library’s first audiobook today, and helped a patron get his first audiobook. The book was from Overdrive. Our library isn’t a subscriber but this patron had another library card at a place that has Overdrive. I was told when I got in that a patron with an iPod needed help getting an audiobook from this library. I said yeah he should be having some trouble, Overdrive doesn’t support Macs/iPods, or they don’t suppoer it. I launched into an explanation of DRM until I got the impression it wasn’t helping and sat and waited for the kid to show up. Turns out he didn’t have an iPod (as I suspected) and turns out he had checked out an MP3 player from the library that has the Overdrive subscription. They had offered to put the book on the MP3 player for him, but they also told him they didn’t know how to do it and suggested, according to him, that he should do it himself. So he came to the library that I work at. They told him to come back when I was working because no one there knew how to do it either. This is what we did.

  1. restarted the computer in exec mode
  2. went to the library website to assure that the book was “checked out” to the patron.
  3. plugged in the MP3 player
  4. downloaded the OverDrive Media Console
  5. installed the Overdrive Media Console after a false start when the firewall blocked its attempt to download files to install into itself
  6. Ran OverDrive Media Console which told us we needed a newer version of Windows Media Player
  7. Went to the Windows site only to find that the version for our computers is Version 9, not the current version 11.
  8. Fished around for a bit until we found version 9 and downloaded it
  9. Installed WMP version 9.
  10. Ran the OverDrive Media Console which said we need to get a Windows Media Security Upgrade for WMP
  11. Installed the Windows Media Security Upgrade which is required before any DRMed files can be played
  12. Re-ran the OverDrive Media Console
  13. Downloaded the book
  14. Installed the book on the MP3 player.

According to OverDrive’s website, this is about par for the course. Then of course the librarian told me that since I’d done all this with the Centurion Guard not unlocked, I’d have to do it all over again next time.

I appreciate that digital media is really where people are going, and I understand why. However, this was one of the worst user experiences I’ve had to subject a patron to in a library at any time, ever. The patron I was helping was a 13 year old kid who was totally agreeable about having to spend basically an hour getting an audiobook off a website, but I couldn’t look him in the eye and say “Yeah this is what it’s like when you want to read a book over a computer.” I just said “This is how it works when companies make dumb choices about how to sell digital content, and no one is telling them they have to do it any other way.”

The State of America’s Libraries, from ALA, April 2007

ALA has published The State of America’s Libraries (pdf link), a 17 page report about what libraries in the US are up to and how they’re doing. Actually it’s more like how ALA is doing. There are a lot of people lately telling us what’s up with libraries and technology. The Gates Foundation likes to say we’re all getting wired and all getting the help we need if we’re not wired. I wonder about their results sometimes and I’m curious about ALA’s. They say a lot of what you’d expect. Despite the title, this is almost entirely about US libraries, though there is mention of Montreal’s new building.

According to the executive report: Library use is up up up, even at “one-room rural outposts” which are then contrasted with the “spectacular” Seattle Public building. I work in a rural outpost and let me tell you, no one likes to think of themselves as an outpost and the people who live there certainly don’t see their one-room library that way. Perhaps I’m touchy. Investment in e-books is up which is hardly surprising since they’re still fairly new as “book technologies” go. It’s also fairly concerning since e-books are rarely owned, often just rented. What does this mean for the actual capital of American’s libraries? Are we owning less but paying more? Additionally, people are still reading books (amazing!) I bet we will never see the ALA report that even implies that people aren’t reading as much as they used to, no matter how the numbers have to bend to support this. School libraries are still dealing with funding headaches.

The library community is still defending its users against intrusive government and censorship challenges. They don’t mention how many libraries and library systems have installed or enhanced filters that restrict access, but this number is pretty important too, and totally absent from the document. The report itself states that it’s only a “highlights” report which sort of contrasts with the title, but that’s not terrifically surprising. A few other observations and some pullquotes.

– We’re still measuring “visits” when we talk about who is going to the library. As near as I can tell a “visit” does not include a trip to the website or interaction with the library that does not occur inside the library building. For all of our 2.0 talking we’re still not totally validating “outside the box” library interactions at our highest levels. Huh. There is no mention of website statistics of public libraries at all. This has to change, and change quick. I think one thing that could rapidly change the way we think about libraries is if we would collect these sorts of numbers with the traditional library data we collect. Make libraries report their website statistics and maybe they’ll start looking at the website as a real library service. If we’re so techie now, why don’t we do this?

– “Virtually all (99 percent) U.S. public libraries now provide free public computer access to the Internet” 99% is a nice big number, but that would mean in Vermont we have two or three libraries that don’t offer this access. I wonder what their story is? I wonder how we can help them?

– “Academic libraries explored new virtual ways of providing services using technologies such as blogs, wikis, avatars, YouTube, Facebook, etc.” I know this is nitpicky, but this is a very short paragraph in a long document that dedicated nearly a page to “visits.” Where are the stats for this statement? It’s as easy or easier to track contacts in YouTube, for example. Why aren’t we seeing those numbers? If we want social tools to move beyond flavor-of-the-month status, we have to treat social tool interactions as “real” library interactions. Also, the mishmash of technologies, tools, and plain old nouns (avatars?) in this list implies strongly that whoever wrote this was either pressed for space or unclear on the concepts. Where is IM?

– Don’t miss this conclusion they draw when discussing the school library shortages: “Often the cuts in school libraries are being linked to the key requirements of the No Child Left Behind legislation.” While using the weak verb “are being linked” is a bit of a cop out, we are seeing that schools which are short of funding are having to channel that funding into getting the numbers required by No Child Left Behind and away from general educational resources like the library. The impact of this is felt disproportionately by poor and rural areas. This is shameful.

– Salaries rose but there is no indication if they rose ahead of or behind inflation and cost of living. We’d know more, but further data is contained in an ALA-APA report which you can’t get without paying for.

– Serials expenditures are up 273% While the report implies that this is because libraries are buying hard copy and electronic versions of the same titles, it’s more likely that libraries are simply being gouged by vendors who have mysterious pricing rubrics that seem more based on ability to pay than any cost of delivering or preparing services. Why aren’t we more critical of this number? Why aren’t we more critical of this disturbing trend?

– They mention My impression from hearing about it: someone is not learning the “don’t make your website a destination, become part of a community” lesson from the 2.0 world. My impression on clicking that link: embarassed as all hell. It’s marketing 101 to not announce a website before it’s ready to go live. The fact that this isn’t done by National Library Week is clearly a case of someone dropping the ball or terribly misjudging how long it takes to make a project like this go live. The “we’re not ready” page could have been a nice savvy page that made people smile and maybe even bookmark it. Instead it shows a lack of attention and respect for my time. I typed in a URL I read in their report (a non-hyperlinked URL I read in an HTML document, geez) and it looks like someone didn’t even care enough to spend 30 minutes to make a nice page with margins and maybe a box to put the text in. It’s 2007, we expect more from the web.

– 80% of US libraries are rural. I have no idea how they arrived at that number or what it means. By population? By number of buildings? It’s almost impossible that 80% of Americans are served by rural libraries, so what is going on? I assume they mean buildings.

– Spectrum Scholarships are up. This is great. Thanks to IMLS for providing addtional grant moneys to put more students into this great program.

– The ALA came out against DOPA. This is good news. However, their stated position “DOPA, as written in the House in 2006, leads to a false sense of security while over-blocking constitutionally protected material.” They stress the business uses of social tools and other “legitimate purposes” which I think glosses over 1) there is nothing wrong with social networking generally, nothing at all. It’s no less safe than the mall. 2) just because something is used in a social sense doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value and shouldn’t be overlegislated by scaremongers who don’t understand it. I wish ALA had a more savvy response to DOPA, but I am happy they came out against it.

– The ALA is trying to attract more libraries to the E-Rate program so that they can get funding for technology. This is good. However, we all know that E-rate money comes with filtering strings attached. This is bad. Libraries should be able to make their own choices about what sort of access they provide to the Internet.

– Three sentences on Google. Eesh.

So, the news is good, generally. The ALA is looking medium-clueful which is up from not-at-all-clueful a few years ago, but there’s still clearly work to be done.

Happy Birthday Little Weblog is eight years old today!

You can take a peek at what it looked like when I first started it up, April 20, 1999. Back then we didn’t have CMSes and I had to upload the webpages uphill both ways in the snow to bring you all these excellent links. I didn’t have comments (though to be fair, I was slow on that bandwagon even once I moved to Movable Type). I based my design on Jesse James Garrett’s Infosift which predated by almost a year. I met Jesse mainly because I asked for design help [and to ask if he minded if I copied him] and my friendship with him and a big group of early bloggers paved the way to my work with MetaFilter and a lot of my interest in 2.0 technologies. Today I’m in Dodge City, Kansas preparing to give a talk about the big 2.0 thing and I’ll see if I can wrap all that in together and make it make sense to folks who don’t have a bunch of stuff on Twitter and who may wonder “Why MySpace?”