Reference question of the day was about finding public domain images. Everyone’s got their go-tos. If I am looking for illustrations or old photos specifically I’ll often use other people’s searches on top of the Internet Archive’s content. Here’s a little how to.
I promised to write about this a few days ago and it’s been, quite a week. Short version: starting May 1st I took a job doing user support for Open Library. It’s very part time, very fulfilling and a lot of fun.
Longer story: MetaFilter, my internet home for over a decade and my employer for almost that long, has been going through some challenges. There was a severe financial downturn (the site is nearly 100% advertiser supported, allowing them to have nearly eight full time employees) and staffing was going to have to be reduced. You can read about some of that happened on Search Engine Land or Matt Haughey’s post on Medium because this was basically a weird “I wonder what happened at Google?” situation. We’d been facing decreasing revenue for about eighteen months and things weren’t improving. As the person in charge of running the site but not managing the money aspect of it, the last year and a half had been really bad for morale. Not knowing if your job was going away, getting gloom-and-doom reports from on high, not being able to plan for the future because you don’t know if there will be a future, are just destabilizing and not allowing me to do my job to the best of my ability. I have a longer version of this that I’d be happy to explain over a beer or two, but that was the general gist.
And ultimately, as much as I loved what I’d built–Ask MetaFilter is one of the best Q&A sites around, bar none, the moderation team is the best group of moderators there is, period–my “career goals” such as they are weren’t with website moderation, they were and remain with libraries. So when stuff started getting hairy in late 2012, I decided I needed a non-MetaFilter hobby, one that was library related, and I decided to talk to the Internet Archive about helping out with Open Library. Open Library, if you don’t know, lends ebooks worldwide. Worldwide. It’s a cool project.
I hadn’t known at the time that Open Library was a bit of a ghost ship, being kept alive and online but not really in active development. I put my head down and just started answering emails, reporting bugs, being the change I wanted to see in Open Library. And once the writing was on the wall at MeFi, that I could stay on as the oldest employee but in a work situation that was more “Everyone works all the time” which was no longer something I wanted to do, I talked to the Archive about getting an actual job-job. I made a data-based pitch “Look, I answered 7000 emails last year and rewrote the help pages and FAQ, user support is probably something that either needs more volunteers or a paid staff member” and they agreed to take me on as a part-timer to keep doing what I was doing, and maybe do a little more.
So I still answer emails, but I also attend staff meetings (via Skype) and have the keys to the Twitter and the blog. It’s weird working in a free culture type of place but still working with Adobe’s DRM nearly every day. I made a graceful mod exit from MetaFilter and I still continue to hang out there, because why wouldn’t I?
Long range I’m not sure what my plan is. I’ve got the same adult education job in my small town in Vermont and don’t plan to leave that. I still write a regular column for Computers in Libraries and I’m still on the road doing public speaking stuff about once a month (contact me if you’d like me to come speak at your event) which I may ramp up depending on how this all goes. I still have a lot of Vermont libraries to visit. I’m trying, despite my tendency to overwork, to take the summer at least partly off. And one of the things I want to do, oddly enough, is spend more time on my blog, writing down more of the things I am working on, in a place that’s mine and not MetaFilter’s.
That’s the news. I’m excited to get back to working more with libraries, all kinds of libraries.
I’ve been doing a lot less public speaking this year, by choice. Just trying to travel less, be more of a homebody, be choosier. I just noticed that I haven’t mentioned any of the talks I have been doing or will be doing, so this is the post that clears that up. I have done three talks this year, all thematically related. You may be able to detect the theme….
Basically they summarize what’s been going on in the world of Fair Use the past year (a lot!) and then talk about what libraries are doing and what they can do. I also talk a bit about my work for Open Library where I am volunteering doing email support, helping people freely download and read ebooks through the Internet Archive‘s somewhat quirky interface. It’s challenging and fun. The two are related but maybe not in the way you’d think. People who are curious about Open Library or maybe helping out a little, please drop me an email and I can talk more about it at length.
A few upcoming talks, most on the far horizon. In August I’ll be in Lincoln Nebraska talking to rural librarians about technology use and training. In April of next year I’ll be at both TXLA (my favorite state conference I think, though there are many close seconds) and then at the Michigan Rural Libraries Conference on Mackinac Island. If you’re going to any of these, please let me know.
I listen a lot to Marc Maron’s WTF podcast about comedy. He interviews pretty much everyone you’ve ever heard of in the comedy world (and some people you may not have heard of) and one of the things he always asks people are “Who are your guys?” like who did you come up with in the comedy world and who did you identify with or look up to when you got started? I recently got an email from a library school student who is an anarchist librarian wondering a similar thing basically who my guys were and what resources were out there for radical librarians. The people who were my guys when I got started are all doing different things right now, interesting things. I wanted to share an amended version of the resource list and email I sent her. These are just people in the radical librarian niche, there are a lot of other people who have influenced me in many other ways. Who are your guys?
It’s a neat project and the takeaway for me is the idea of “just in time” reference or event-based reference especially at large events like marches and demonstrations but this could be anything really.
There used to be a much more active anarchist librarian community on a mailing list and forum
The FreeGovInfo people spend a lot of time making sure that government information is available to ALL the people. It’s interesting since, well, it’s very involved with government, but making the current government we have accountable and responsible is a worthwhile goal
are both groups that take a fairly radical approach to what is a library issue and work within big organizations like the ALA to be on the record about things that matter. There’s some pushback to this, but overall I think they are worthwhile. Not everyone is an anarchist, there are varieties of left-wing thinkers (and some libertarians? I don’t know) but worthwhile to get to know and worth seeing if there are people in your area.
More recently the Occupy Libraries put an organized face on the idea of a protest library. Many places to read more, here is a current blog and wiki about the Occupy Wall Street library.
Some individual librarians are people I met early on and are still continuing to do great stuff. I’m also most hesitant to mention anyone for fear I’ll leave someone out, but here are two folks
Julie Herrada, curator of the Labadie collection http://www.lib.umich.edu/users/jherrada Lincoln Cushing, archival consultant, All Of Us Or None collection (among other things) http://www.docspopuli.org/Personal.html
But at some level I think the best way to start mutual aid projects from within the library context (in my personal opinion) is to try to work FOR
– fewer limitations on content (against DRM even if you may not be able to eradicate it)
– fewer copyright restrictions and be careful about self-censoring
– access to library materials to more people including historically disadvantaged groups such as language minorities, people in prison/jail, homeless people, people with disabilities
– sharing the community resources that you hold in the widest way possible
And while I think it’s important to be upbeat, it’s also important to understand what the threats are in the community and trying to work AGAINST
– more restrictions on copyright and/or internet freedom
– people meddling in childrens’ rights to read or intellectual freedom generally
– internet filtering
– publisher’s harassment of librarians and others for telling the truth about their practices or business models
– increasing push towards rental/lease of content and away from purchasing it and the rights that first sale gives us