I was explaining to a drop-in time student today the difference between dial-up and broadband and satellite internet and wifi. She is buying a laptop. Her first computer. She is 83 years old. She is also probably going to be my future landlady. I said that even though she was in a place with no telephone, she could go to the public library with her laptop and get online pretty easily. All the little public libraries in my area have free wifi, and in most cases it’s the only place in town to get it. MaintainIT linked to a good set of sites where libraries (or anyone) can advertise their wifi for free. People zooming through town will know they can get online with their laptops at your library. Neat.
I’ve been travelling and working more than I’ve been surfing and sharing lately. That will change this Summer, but for now it’s the reality of what seems to be The Conference Season. Here are some nifty links that people have sent me, and ones that I have noticed over the past few weeks. Sort of a random grab bag.
- Some introspection and questions from a special collections blogger. “Why do this anyways?” If you have suggestions or comments I’m sure she’d appreciate them.
- The MaintainIT project has a guest blogger from the Tonganoxie Public Library in rural Kansas. I’ve pointed to their website before as a way that a tiny library can make use of tech tools to really expand their presence and share a lot of information. Library director Sharon Moreland is detailing her library’s move from Sirsi to Koha and it makes for great reading.
- Speaking of library blogs, Seattle Public Library has one called Shelf Talk which falls solidly into the category of “blogs I’d read even if I weren’t reading blogs for work” Right up top there’s an interview with Cory Doctorow talking about his new book Little Brother. Also noted is every librarians favorite category: lists, booklists to be exact. The blog manages to intersperse library information, local lore and trivia and book topics in a lively and attractive package. It’s a great model of what a library blog can be. Yay team!
- Dear New York Public Library, please do not invade the Andrew Heiskell Library Braille Collection (the only browseable collection of books for the blind and visually impaired in NYC) by relocating the Technology Unit there. Thanks. More info on facebook.
- Original Spiderman origin artwork donated to Library of Congress.
- Not exactly library related, but this TED talk with James Howard Kunstler talking about the despair of suburbia and the importance of creating inspired public spaces as “manifestations of the common good” is worth watching. 20 minutes.
I got an email this morning from a student who was investigating sustainability in rural libraries. I sent him to the usual places like the The Center for the Study of Rural Librarianship and ALA’s resources for rural libraries but it got me thinking about sustainability generally. The whole tech boom and the “everything is on the internet” idea, really doesn’t affect most rural libraries that much. Sure, there are some communities that are thinking of ditching their libraries as a cost-cutting measure, but libraries still have a strong place in rural communities, often as the only access point to the internet and reading material for adults, young adults and children. They aren’t going anywhere.
They are, however, having a very hard time keeping up technologically and that’s where groups like MaintainIT come in. I have mentioned them before, I am on their steering committee. They’re a project of TechSoup, funded by the Gates Foundation. There are people from WebJunction on the committee. It’s a little bit of the usual suspects. I came to San Francisco for our once a year meeting where we talked about what the next year of the project is going to be like and what has happened so far. MaintainIT, if you don’t know, created “cookbooks” for libraries that gives them assistance with teachnical issues. You can go download them or look at them, they’re free. They’re even Creative Commons licensed so you can repurpose them and use them however you want to. They’re very well done and very informative.
It’s a neat project and yet has a few immediate problems. One, the idea of repurposing doesn’t really go far when what you have to work with is a PDF and you’re dealing with libraries who have never heard of the Creative Commons. Two, the cute language sometimes gets in the way of the really sound and solid technical advice these cookbooks have. Three, each year of the grant program that created this project focuses on different-sized libraries meaning the project doesn’t cohere around a specific userbase. It also serves 18 states, not fifty. Vermont is not one of the states it serves. Neither is Maine. California is one. So, while I really like the project, it’s gotten me very contemplative about sustainability. You see, the grant ends next year. And, like every single grant-funded project that happens in libraries, the big question at this point is “How do we continue to make an impact when we no longer have any staff or funding for it?” And that’s when you hit the idea of community. And that’s where libraries have something sustainable and grant-funded projects, even the best-meaning ones, don’t.
WebJunction was created to be the community that existed after the Gates Foundation library project was no longer providing support. WebJunction, however, still has staff and funding. WebJunction does not so much provide support as it offers an online community of librarians and others who sort of help each other. WebJunction is free but state libraries often pay to have a “branded” version of it. The amounts they pay are in the tens of thousands of dollars. You can see the VT WebJunction here. You can see the regular WebJunction here. I’ve already talked about WebJunction here before so I don’t need to guide you through the differences here (there are few) or point out the OCLC search box on the VT site that tells me that my nearest copy of Jane Eyre is in New Hampshire. I just want to mention that this “solution” has been less than optimal for my particular library region. I hope it has been better for others.
A community has not coalesced around WebJunction in Vermont. However there are communities in the small Vermont towns I work with that center around the library. The librarians I work with, while they’re cognizant of Google and the Internet generally, aren’t aware that there’s anything not sustainable about their libraries. The libraries are packed with people every day. They’re often the only place to even get high speed internet in the town. It’s definitely a pain that it’s hard for them to keep their computers running. However, it’s a bit of a stretch, to me, that they need to join a new community to do that. As much as I like and enjoy the Tech Soup, WebJunction and MaintainIT communities and the people involved in them specifically, I wonder about the best game plan for getting and keeping libraries tech savvy about their own IT needs and environment. Paying a local tech geek to fix some problem (say, like me) certainly doesn’t scale into something that you can replicate nationwide without replicating the cash that pays them. On the other hand, my job isn’t dependent on grant money and I’ve been doing this for almost three years which is coincidentally the life of this particular grant. The difference is, I’ll be doing this job next year and the grant won’t. Unless we can come up with something….
Many of us have a bookmobile fetish. I know I do. I was heavy in negotiations with the Internet Archive to get to drive their bookmobile around NH/VT with Casey this Summer but life intervened and it didn’t happen. How happy was I, then, to see my friends James and Shinjoung from FreeGovInfo as well as Sarah from the September Project [and a colleague of mine from MaintainIT] driving the adorable van around Northern California. Steve Cisler wrote about the Internet Bookmobile for First Monday several years ago and it’s an article worth reading.
Sarah’s bookmobile posts are here, James and Shinjoung’s posts are here. (hint for drupal blog maintainers, you’ll get better results in Google if you change the URLs for your texonomy to include the term not just a number). They’re still going, through September 15th, if you’re in Northern California, see if you can see them.