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Free Range Librarian K.G. Schneider: Techno-Librarian. Writer. Gadfly. Commentator-at-Large.
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26. Hachette Job, and Other Pre-LIANZA Musings

LamingtonI set aside my pre-LIANZA preparation to note that the theme for the past several weeks in LibraryLand is: be bold. (Warning, the following blog post is a babblish mish-mosh; I’m so busy I had to abandon plans to brew the White House beer for a local competition, let alone structure or revise this writing.)

Last week, Hachette Book Group announced it would “hike the price of backlist ebooks to the library market by 220% starting October 1″ — this, after ‘agreeing’ last May to re-enter the ebook market.

ALA President Maureen Sullivan organized a prompt and bold response, stating that librarians are “weary of faltering half-steps” and commenting, “‘Now we must ask, “With friends like these …’.” (To which Jamie LaRue added, “Maybe what we need is a smarter group of friends.”)

Sullivan has tasked ALA’s Digital Content and Libraries Working Group to develop “more aggressive” strategies — a great call to action, in keeping with her presidential focus on advocacy. This isn’t to suggest that anyone, including Sullivan, believes an ALA working group is the only response to an issue, or that the rest of us don’t have work to do, but it’s important that our association take swift, formal, and bold action.

Given that, it’s sad that one of the last editorials from Francine Fialkoff before her departure from Library Journal after a highly distinguished career was a meandering swat at ALA committees. Most of us understand that committees are part of the larger landscape of advocacy and action–not solutions in themselves, but nonetheless contributing to solutions.

I remember being told, ages ago, that 85% of information transfer among scientists is informal, and I’d be willing to agree that applied to library leadership, as well. Many a library leader germinated leadership skills, ideas, and powerful connections within the world of professional organizations. Look at the truly significant thought leaders, and most cut their teeth through organizational participation. To simply write off the role of committees is to encourage learned helplessness toward organizational action — to give up in advance.

Does ALA drive us crazy sometimes? Are there committees — even entire divisions — mired in dysfunction? Does a bear poop in the woods? All human endeavors are destined to be flawed and somewhat crazy-making; “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.” Work through and around the flaws (and if need be, shift your efforts away from the fully dysfunctional), and experience the usefulness.

Speaking of work to do and the faith and skills to make it happen, Jenica Rogers and peers in the SUNY network have spoken truth to the powerful journal publishers and their — no other phrase for it — price-gouging behavior: “SUNY Potsdam will not be subscribing to an American Chemical Society online journal package for 2013.”

To underscore just how radical this is, Jenica spells out that the American Chemical Society “is in the unique position of both approving programs and selling the content necessary for approval” — an egregious conflict of interest.  (I’m wondering how unique this is, actually.) For this, the ACS extorts free labor from faculty who have no choice but to publish (or perish) — free labor to the ACS, but certainly not free to the supporting institutions — then turn around to charge increasingly high prices for their product. Jenica notes that “the ACS package would have consumed more than 10% of my total acquisitions budget, just for journals for this one department.”

N.b.: this also points to the importance of including librarians — or at least librarian-informed judgment –  in the university program approval and review process; some universities understand this, while others do not. It is to Jenica’s credit that she has built the organizational relationships to make possible the necessary conversations to do what elsewhere would be unthinkable.

These collection conversations are being held in an interesting space of tension and change. Last Friday we held library design sessions all day, led by a professional library space planner.  At one point, in a conversation about reducing print collections to provide more study space, the planner commented that accreditors need to understand that the assessment of the value the campus library has to reorient itself from being heavily collection-focused to the services libraries provide.

In some ways I believe (or perhaps hope) this is happening. One clue to that is the workshops our regional accrediting agency is holding: I don’t see one on collection strength in libraries, but I do see one on information literacy. But to see how far we across LibraryLand have to go, look at the standards for elite research libraries. Of course the collections in these libraries are important. But in isolation, these statistics are not much more than collection-focused bean-counting. Would you really want to brag that your library was number one in microfilm holdings?  The statistics may provide some insight into the readiness of any university to support skilled research, but there are no meaningful indicators, beyond what can be inferred from personnel capacity, about the library’s ability to produce researchers.

And yet! As Barbara Fister keeps arguing (and as I wrote earlier this year in An ebook and a hard place), shifting the focus from beans to soup (as it were) isn’t an excuse for abandoning our responsibilities to the memory work that has been core to who we are for thousands of years. We are in tension with all of this: the shift from print to digital; the battles of ownership and access; the transformation from box-of-books to vital commons.

Imagine  if the university accreditors showed up and asked how many journal holdings were open access — or secured by LOCKSS — or published by libraries or universities. Imagine too if the ALA LIS program accreditation committee held schools’ feet to the fire for producing graduates who understood (as much as any of us do) the complex publishing landscape and our roles in it as advocates and defenders — measurable with a four-hour closed-book final exam. If I’m going to imagine, I might as well be bold about it.

Meanwhile, my brain is a jumble of PowerPoint, workshop handouts, Convocation, pants-hemming, two weeks of meetings to be squeezed into one, and packing lists, while visions of Lamingtons dance through my dreams.

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27. One of those birthdays

Potato Chips (Kettle Brand)

Potato Chips (Kettle Brand)

In a week I turn 55.

Turning 30 was delightful; stationed in Germany, I took myself on a tour of the Benelux, and on the Big Day, wandered enchanted through the Kroller-Muller museum. I was thrilled to leave the twenties behind.

Turning 40 was sweet; we were in New Jersey, Sandy threw a party, and all had fun. I look back, and there were people at that party who no longer walk this planet, and I am so glad for every celebration behind me.

The big deal at 50 was not where we were (Florida–wow, did we really live there once upon a time?), but that I had reached an important goal: to be writing again by 50. It meant so much to me to see my essay about my friend David published in White Crane–my first literary publication. Only people who have published literary writing understand the hurdle (and the effort behind it) of that first piece, first drafted in 2005.

(An aside, writing-humor-style: the person who replied, “Oh yes, I’ve been meaning to write a short story one of these days,” as if short-form literary writing were an unskilled project of a long morning, like cleaning a gas grill. Yup, you try that. Send it in to the New Yorker–the go-to submission for people who know nothing about writing.)

But 55 is freaking me out!

I suspect the problem is the way I absent-mindedly do “birthday arithmetic,” which is probably a holdover from a very early job as a records clerk at San Francisco Juvenile Court, where we filed records by the Soundex system, which had my brain doing small calculations all day long.

My birthday algorithm is this: double the age and decide if I’ll be alive.

I could easily see turning 60, as far away as it seemed. 80 was definitely within reach, given my hale family. 100 was remotely feasible, given advances in medicine, even though no one in my family had lived that long. But 110 — that seems entirely out of reach. I know people who are nearly 100, but I don’t know anyone who is close to approaching 110.

I realize birthday arithmetic is completely illogical. The arbitrary doubling of my current age is a ridiculous exercise. But it makes as much sense, or lack of sense, as grown men weeping over an athletic team, or Canada releasing a stamp featuring the Kraken (which if anything hale from England), or anything about Justin Bieber.

My solution to birthday-arithmetic-angst is to double down on the life ahead of me: personally, professionally, spiritually.

I’m excited about New Zealand and plan to use next Friday as a work-from-home day (after 11 days of going to work, the natural rhythm of fall Orientation) to work on my presentation and my workshop. The former will be about radical optimism (I just finished Martin Seligman’s Learned Optimism and highly recommend it) and the latter will be based on Reframing Academic Leadership.

At some point I’d like to collect my published essays into a book and offer it for sale. That’s a project where I wish I had a Life Intern (or one of those old-fashioned wives). I also greatly enjoyed writing an article for the library trade press (big thanks to Valerie and Karen at ALA!). At one point I didn’t want to do that any more because I wanted to reserve time for literary writing, but the latter is not happening. It isn’t demeaning to journalism to say it doesn’t lean as hard on my right brain. I found myself enjoying the rhythm of research, interview, synthesis, and writing–a pair of old slippers that fit perfectly after I dug them out of the back of the closet.

I’m occasionally attending an Episcopal church on Wednesday evenings, because I appreciate Sandy’s church leadership and yes, I attend many services, but she cannot be my pastor and her church is not my denomination. (Other pastor’s spouses will “get” what I mean.)

I’m also thinking strategically about the next 25 years of my working life: 15 in the regular full-time workforce, 10 as a consultant. Given my family’s lifespan, I will have another 5 to 10 years after that (if not more, due to aforesaid advances in medicine) where, oh, I don’t know, I can spend mornings writing, and in the afternoon emulate the woman on Packanack Lake in New Jersey who sat on her front porch in a rocking chair, eating potato chips and hollering at passers-by (Sandy and I agreed many years back we’d like to be like her someday).  In the meantime, as I focus on the pre-potato-chip era, I am enjoying the sense that I’m not just rolling in every day but have a map in front of me and a bright flashlight shining on it.

Onward, the dreaded march!

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28. The Reluctant Cataloger

Saturday morning I’m headed in to do a little training in cataloging. My friend Zoe laughed her guts out when I told her I’m the de facto chief cataloger at my library. She said that in small institutions such as ours, the oldest librarian in the library usually has that role these days. Guilty as charged.

I love cataloging. No, I absolutely love it. The minutia. The conflicting rules. The endless attention to detail. The spine label printing. Ok, so I don’t love cataloging–I put up with it, since you can now graduate from library school without a grounding in the equivalent to programming in our profession, the structured language of bibliographic information. Note: when I was in library school, I took cataloging AND programming (PASCAL). Kids these days… But I do love transforming a shelf zombie into a discoverable, usable book, by my own hands or even better, by others, and we have a lot of zombies.

On other fronts, I haven’t written in several weeks because we went on vacation and I don’t like to advertise that in advance. I’m concerned people will steal our 32″ 6-year-old TV or our 15-year-old couch. Or kidnap our cats, who became so despondent at our absence they pooped in several inappropriate places, ensuring that my first two hours at home were not chillaxing with our unread mail and writing leisurely blog posts but crawling behind furniture with towels and warm Oxiclean to dab away the doo.  A very hard crash landing.

We spent our vacation with things and people both familiar and comfortable: friends, Hearst Castle, the Madonna Inn, a favorite hotel in Cambria, a favorite resort in Guerneville, more friends. It was the kind of vacation where the days are very full and yet slip away like quicksilver, where hours are spent adventuring and other hours are spent quietly reading entire books from page 1 to the end.

Like most people in higher ed, right now I am staring down the beginning of the semester, roaring toward us like an unstoppable freight train. But I am cupping our vacation in my hands, feeling its wings beating against my fingers, remembering.



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29. OCLC’s un-hire

In the few spare moments I am allotted, I’ve been working on an article (a weekend project, as my weekday pattern  is commute-work-work-work-commute-gym-eat-sleep-repeat), but in the back of my brain I’ve wanted to follow up on OCLC’s un-hire of of Jack Blount, particularly in light of my “I am the man” post several weeks back.

The article is about librarians and image — depressingly, one of those topics that, the literature underscores, is only assigned to library administrators of a certain age, though I appear to be one of the few women to weigh in on this ancient topic. I promise not to be a jerk: no railing about Kids These Days; no grotesque generalizations;  a goodly amount of evidence — though when a Facebook colleague asked me if I was writing a book, I decided it was time to begin wrapping up the research end of things. (Were you aware of the Special Libraries Association Presidential Task Force on the Image of the Librarian/Information Professional, established in 1989 with representatives from a number of library associations?)

Like most of my writing projects, I started out with some working ideas. Some were irrelevant, some were validated, and several are being proven entirely wrong. I love this part of the process — like most librarian-writers, perhaps a little too much; it’s the phase where I begin learning something new.

My writing activity ties into my ruminations about the non-hiring of Jack Blount, because here is a case where an employer was absolutely convinced of the right person for the job, until the employer wasn’t. (Not for a moment does anyone believe that Jay Jordan strolled into a meeting and said he was wrong, he didn’t want to retire.)

I don’t know the reasons, and am not even that interested; but I was intrigued that there was no hue and cry to keep Jack Blount. After the initial pop of interest, everyone moved on. Had OCLC continued with the hire, and Blount turned out to be wrong for whatever reasons they uncovered, that would have been the defining information about OCLC for a good long time to come. As it stands, the un-hire became a non-event disappearing into the swirls of time.

So, good for OCLC. I cannot over-emphasize what I have said elsewhere about hiring: it’s a chimerical process, and if you have any doubts, even doubts you can’t entirely pinpoint, don’t hire. Pick up your skirts and flee.

The Sixth Sense

The Sixth Sense

Then there is the flip side: for all we know, Jack Blount woke up one morning in a cold sweat and said to himself, “I should not take this job.”  I cannot tell you how many colleagues have confessed that they accepted a new position — relocated to it, sold homes, took their families — and within days or weeks realized they were not merely not in Happyville but had been dragged into its Dante-esque antithesis, complete with howling wraiths and massive workplace dysfunction. (I recall a colleague describing university staff meetings, rife with discord, where one librarian would take off her shoes and clip her toenails–and this was a uni of size and reputation.)

I’ve not once heard anyone say they later had second thought

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30. I am The Man — and you can, too!

Library Admin is Fun!

Library Admin is Fun!

Sarah has a great post about her transition to library administrator. Because she feels awkward in that cloth she’ll likely do great.

Naturally, being The Man myself (a few times over), I have my own twist on her observations.

There’s a fine line between being transparent and over-sharing. I don’t believe in transparency so much as translucency. My own boss is a great example of how to share just enough. She’s frank and informative and helps place the world in context, and she finds the positive spin on things or the right solution for the right time. And there are things she doesn’t share with me at the time that I’m glad she withheld (and equally honored that she later shared) — and I’m guessing that’s the tip of the iceberg.  I follow her lead.

A lot of my role as The Man is about managing communications: internal, external, whatever — from the signs on the wall to the emails to the masses. I recall a thread on Facebook where a librarian fumed (in a post phrased as a question — not too passive-aggressive, eh) that her director insisted on reviewing all external communications.

Well, yeah, I hope so (though of course in larger institutions that’s managed by a marketing person or an entire department). This is one area where you will need to recommunicate your message frequently. Let me take it farther: I set and enforce expectations for how we will engage with our constituents one-on-one.   I do not apologize for being the chief my-friend-what’s-in-charge of message management, from the signs on our printers to how we communicate computer outages to the flyers distributed to the masses.  I’ve walked into the alternative several times in my career and had to undo a lot of damage. You need a united and clear voice.

The Man must be mercilessly optimistic. I’ve flogged that horse so much it found a lawyer and is suing, but I’ll say it again. I can tell it’s time for vacation because it’s becoming a little difficult to be perky and upbeat, but you know what? I’m being paid to be perky and upbeat. Once I walk in the library, that’s my assigned take on the universe. I try very hard to share “good news” as often as I can.

Not only that, it’s my job to ensure that the “optimistic spin” pervades the workplace as much as possible, and to honor and uplift the good moments while deflecting, or at least delaying, the inevitable buzzkill. There are people on this planet who in the name of “just being realistic” have a knack for popping party balloons before the cake has been served; it’s their world-view. Sometimes you will need to sit on them. There will be time to fix the inevitable glitches or problems. People — and that includes you, dear Man — deserve the right, and have the need,  to bask in a good moment–to feel a little joy.

Sarah is also right about developing a suit of armor for the people who will never Approve of you… or who project situational Disapproval when you make an unpopular decision.  We all want to be liked, but you can’t be the Man and always be liked. Get on that chainmail vest and get over it.

Part of optimism is persistence; a sense of humor helps too. For the last year I have led a “small” project involving an interactive whi

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31. Painted ponies go up and down

A friend of ours, Rachel Dowell, died last weekend after a long and dignified battle with cancer. Rachel was able to hold on long enough to witness an important life event, and then Cancer won out.

Friends, relatives, even pets who depart leave not only ghostly trails of their presence in our lives, faint footprints left in photographs and Facebook postings, but at least for me, also generate crucial moments of reflection and inventory.

Sandy will officiate at Rachel’s memorial service, and I’ll be there too; I can hear my cousin Craig at my uncle Bob’s service saying, “These are the good times.” Of all the honors we have in life, being part of the communal experience of mourning is one of the most significant and memorable.

It was easy enough to hit the Undo button for ALA Annual, transferring my registration to a friend who needed one, canceling the hotel, deferring road trips, excusing myself from meetings. I fly Southwest so much on business that the ticket will be used by October if not earlier. I’ll be at ALA in Seattle next January. Of all my ALA happenings, I miss breakfast with Steven Kerchoff and the road trip with Skip Auld the most, but I’ve asked Skip to be my Friday date for Midwinter — and the libraries we would be visiting will be there all year round — and I’ll have breakfast with Steven in Chicago next summer.

But I had another moment of clarity, the sort of epiphany where I wake up with a fully-formed realization hovering in front of me like a dragonfly, and when I shared it with Sandy we were in agreement. Not a big or momentous deal, but just that I’m dialing back the New Zealand trip to be a pleasant professional activity of not longer than a week, just me solo flying to NZ, doing my conference thang, seeing a couple of libraries, a couple of extra days in Wellington.

Meanwhile, Sandy and I will take trips this year and next that are on our “bucket lists,” from a train trip in Canada at leaf-peeping time — something Sandy has talked about for as long as I’ve known her — to my humble but real hankering for a return trip to Cambria and Hearst Castle. We are mutually agreed on visiting a growing list of friends and relatives we haven’t seen enough in the decade, visits we can’t do once people leave this earth. Plus I need more writing time, just for myself, and I would like a few more San Francisco “staycation” days.

Don’t get me wrong,  I’m excited about the New Zealand trip (especially the librarians, the libraries, and the beer), but I had been spinning it out into a family vacation neither of us had prioritized, when as a librarian and minister we do have to pick and choose our grand adventures. And in the end taking one week in September is about as much as I feel comfortable doing that time of year. I am (to echo a post I’ll write about in the future) The Man, and as The Man, have responsibilities.

Do I have advice for you? As it happens, yes. Have that difficult conversation you’ve been avoiding, and do it now, before things get set in concrete.

I blogged in 2008 about dropping out of a PhD program. There’s another part to that story, which is that the morning after my arrival, I woke up with the unshakeable conviction I should immediately turn around and go home–not one of those brief moments of insecurity common to many endeavors, but a flashlight-bright understanding of my circumstances, like those brides who, standing at the altar, pick up their skirts and flee.

I cried on the phone; I felt it in my heart, even though I could barely explain my anxiety. (There were “circumstances,” not worth reciting here, but some of my concern turned out to be unnervingly premonitory.) But I stayed, out

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32. New Zealand Itinerary, First Draft



As this month’s personal hobby, I am working on finalizing our travel plans to New Zealand. Things are starting to swing into focus. My goal is: have a wonderful experience at LIANZA; meet many fantastic librarians; see libraries; see a wonderful country; get some quality time with Sandy; chill out…

I realized as I was putting my plans together that some parts of my life have become very oblique to anyone not following me on FaceBook, now that I am flying through the Tunnel of Academic Library Administration, hanging on to my seat for dear life. (Overheard at an event today: “Oh, that’s Karen Schneider–I don’t see her too much any more.”) I recently realized I had been losing vacation days for several pay periods and wondered how I got in that predicament (which I promptly addressed by taking a couple of days off, and will take several more over the summer, though we’re being prudent about travel and other expenses so we can enjoy New Zealand).

Part of it was hospice care for a wonderful tabby we adopted in early 2011 after our old tabby died and Emma, our elderly tuxedo cat, was clearly lonely. Prada, the new tabby, was healthy when she arrived, and quickly fit in, but right before the fall semester (my life now being driven by the academic year) was stricken with a fast-moving, highly pernicious oral cancer. She soldiered on, a brave and uncomplaining lass, but needed much TLC on a day-to-day basis; and when Prada finally left this world early this year, we couldn’t bear leaving Emma alone again, but of course, we wanted to be careful about not just rushing out to get any new kitty. So the vacation count crept up me, and then it was spring, and honestly, there’s no time for vacation during the regular semesters. (Prada’s successor is Samson, a hearty 8-year-old ginger cat who loves all of us and approves of our generous meal plan.)

Anyway,  these rough plans are driven by a few things, such as our preference for cities and sedate activities, my wish to do my talks before my personal travel, the KiwiRail schedule (which in an effort to “to transform the service into an internationally recognised tourism product” has reduced service to an awkward several days per week), my unwillingness to drive on the other side of the road (I did that for a year in 1984–my very first car, a junker purchased on the RAF Lakenheath “Lemon Lot”–but I wouldn’t risk it now), and my vague sense that we should have footfall on both islands, even though I would not suggest that a Kiwi visiting the continental US should also travel to Alaska and Hawaii. Because it’s the semester and there is Much To Do, as well as a busy time for Sandy’s job, and yet we are also cognizant this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, we’re trying to balance this trip so it is neither too long nor too short.

But it’s a draft — not a final plan. Input welcome!

First Draft, NZ Itinerary

Friday, 9/21 (pm): Depart California

Saturday 9/22: Arrive Palmerston North, check in, decompress/de-lag. We will look terrible and behave strangely, so probably an in-room night.

Sunday: more de-lagging. Church somewhere? A stroll on PN’s Square? Possible conference event in evening.

Monday, 11:30-12:30: Lead workshop on change management (working title: “Change is Easy, You Go First” — thank you, George Needham)

Tuesday night: Conference dinner

Wednesday: Closing keynote

Wednesday: driven to Welli

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33. DPLA West: It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s an API!

First, context. On April 27 I attended DPLA West,  and let me take it from the horse’s mouth:

DPLA West—which took place on April 27, 2012 in San Francisco—was the second major public event bringing together librarians, technologists, creators, students, government leaders [including IMLS and the National Archives], and others interested in building a Digital Public Library of America. Convened by the DPLA Secretariat at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society [John Palfrey] and co-hosted by the San Francisco Public Library [Luis Herrera was there--I mean, is this guy triplets or what? He's both amazing and ubiquitous], the event assembled a wide range of stakeholders in a broad, open forum to facilitate innovation, collaboration, and connections across the DPLA effort. DPLA West also showcased the work of the interim technical development team and continued to provide opportunities for public participation in the work of the DPLA.

The best part of the event for me was communing with and among so many nerds, including friend-nerds, acquaintance-nerds, celebrity-digerati-nerds, and even biblio-celebrity-digerati-nerds. My library school advisor Jana Bradley was even there, and how wonderful to meet up with her again. She was a terrific adviser, a real mentor, and she continues to do great stuff.

The second best part of the event was the sheer electricity of the day. There we were, at the Internet Archives, all excited about the nascent Digital Public Library of America! The speakers were lucid and interesting, and the event was well-captured in text, video, and even artistic renderings. The weather  cooperated, and at lunch we fanned out into the sunshine and kibitzed while noshing on lovely box lunches. I had never seen the scanning operation at the IA, and it was fascinating and even touching to see beautiful old books carefully scanned for the world to know and share.

However, when I tried to synthesizing the event later on, I found myself agreeing with Peter Brantley’s assessment that the event displayed “a cacophony of wildly disparate visions.” Stakeholders were not in agreement on “the whatness of the thing,” to use an old literary expression, nor were they aware of this.

The DPLA has had this problem from the outset, beginning with such fundamental issues as what a “library” is. Nicholas Carr, writing earlier that month, noted that “Chief Officers of State Library Agencies passed a resolution asking the DPLA steering committee to change the name of the project” — since the DPLA’s goal, though it doesn’t quite understand this,  is really to be the Digital Public Stacks and ILS of America — and then observed, “The controversy over nomenclature points to a deeper problem confronting the nascent online library: its inability to define itself. The DPLA remains a mystery in many ways. No one knows precisely how it will operate or even what it will be.”

As became clear in the discussions, what public libraries (ahem — real public libraries) want, for the most part, is the ability to purchase/license and share current ebook titles: the much-coveted product of the Big Six publishers. They want Hunger Games, not someone’s pre-1923 travelogue. The think-tank nerds want government documents digitized (and who can disagree with that, even though it’s not the top priority for public libraries).  The developers want an amazing tool

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34. ALA Annual 2012: Anodyne in Anaheim

It’s almost time for the March of the Librarians! Friday at ALA starts with an ol’ pal picking me up at SNA and then heading out for a road trip to see libraries (or at least, given area traffic, “library”). I’m thinking West Hollywood, even though it’s an hour from the airport. Recommendations welcome.

As always, my schedule has some dueling appointments, overlap, gaps, and things I should probably be doing but don’t remember. I conclude my term as interim GLBTRT secretary after this conference and then swing into ALA Councilor responsibilities as of Midwinter 2013, so I’ve blocked out some time at this conference for getting reacquainted, as I can’t make the Saturday orientation for new and returning councilors.

I very much appreciate all the suggestions for my work on Council. The big issues do seem to be ebooks, ebooks, and ebooks.

Friday June 22

11-5 Road trip!

4:00pm – 5:15pm Opening General Session, Rebecca MacKinnon

Possible dinner

Saturday June 23

8-10 a.m. GLBTRT Steering Committee I, Hyatt Regency Orange County – HYATT – Garden 1

10:30 – noon GLBTRT All Committees’ Meeting Anaheim Marriott – MAR-Grand Salon G-H

1 pm – 3 pm: Exhibits

3:30pm – 5:00pm ALA Council / Executive Board / Membership Information Session Anaheim Marriott Platinum 1-6

6 – 8 pm LIAL11 Reunion dinner

Sunday, June 24, 2012

8-10 am Publisher’s focus group; “A Very Nice Breakfast” at the Anaheim Hilton. CH organizing.

9:00am – 12:00pm ALA Council I Anaheim Marriott Platinum 1-6

10:30am to 12:00pm OCLC: Our Digital Future Hilton Anaheim, Huntington Room (n.b. I owe you all a post about DPLA West)

1:30pm – 3:30pm LITA Top Tech Trends, Anaheim Convention Center, Ballroom A

4:00 pm – 5:30 pm The Fourth Paradigm: Data-Intensive Research, Digital Scholarship and Implications for Libraries (LITA President’s Program)

6:00 – 8:00pm GLBTRT Social Tortilla Jo’s, 1510 – Disneyland Drive, Bldg A

Monday June 25

9:30 Breakfast with SK

10:30 – 2:00pm Stonewall Book Awards Brunch Anaheim Marriott – MAR – Grand Salon A-D

Yet more exhibits

5:30 – 7 Battledecks!

Tuesday June 26

9 – 11:00am GLBTRT Steering Committee II Anaheim Convention Center – ACC – 212A

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35. Library Journal Design Institute, Denver

I’m going to focus on some highlights, rather than rehashing the entire Library Journal Design Institute, but overall it was a timely, highly worthwhile event, a solid mix of panel sessions and interactive problem-solving sessions. Most of the attendees were from public libraries, but there were a few academics, and the ones I spoke with were in agreement that academic librarians can learn a lot from studying public library design (not just facilities, either, but services as well).

The informal theme of this institute — I think I heard LJ has done about 20 of these? — is, in Joseph Sanchez’s terms, “library as question mark.” Sanchez, from the Auraria Library at the University of Colorado, was on an opening panel where he and Matt Hamilton from Anythink Libraries talked about the impact of changes in the reading ecology on how library space is used, with a lot of conversation about users creating digital content. Traci Lesneski from MS&R talked about the library as extrovert: more transparent, more visible — a point that resonated as I thought about our library becoming more proactively welcoming.

Nevertheless, for all the talk about content creation, library gardens, gaming, and so on, implicit in all the sessions that day was the idea that when users walk into a library, they want to see people and products (versus wandering into an empty space –  I saw this at a fairly new university library where my first thought was that the first-floor lobby was a missed opportunity).

Those products will probably include books, but can also include DVDs and other media. In some cases, the users themselves may be the attraction, on display as they create, browse, and read (not unlike watching the pizza maker twirl his dough). And build in a visible location for a helpful human presence — call it a librarian or library worker, but I hear the word “concierge” a lot these days (waving at West Hollywood!), and think that’s a good fit for that role.

There were tours the previous day which my travel schedule didn’t let me attend, but I did get the tour of Denver Public Library, which for me had several ah-hah moments. As one librarian, a facility manager, observed, I got the tour I needed. It’s a midcentury building about the same age as my library, and it had a renovation and expansion in 1990 led by Michael Graves. So their challenge was to preserve an iconic look and feel while bringing the library into the technology era. I don’t have those challenges per se, but renovating a pre-technology building with “good bones” is certainly relevant.

Two Benches, Paired

Two Benches, Paired

Plus I saw Michael Graves benches scattered about DPL, and thought, Perfect. Benches. Which leads (rather loosely, like a dog galloping ahead of its owner) to a point made at the Institute: the project lead for a library design need to be outgoing and friendly, but also firm. That describes me to a tee on my best days. (I will refrain from commenting on what I’m like on my worst days.)

The leader must also have strong and well-communicated ideas and opinions–like, those benches are a great fit — but be flexible. One strong idea I had early on (courtesy of Linda Demmers, a bit more on her below) is that our library would absolutely need a thorough facility inspection before any other design activity moved forward (with the exception of the computer classroom), and that’s wrapping up as I write this. (By the way, who knew there were so many ways to use asbestos?).

I was right, and sticking to my guns was the right thing to do. It do

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36. ALA Council: How can I serve you?

I’m humbled to be reelected to ALA Council for what will be my fourth term, and congrats to Barb Stripling (ALA President), Trevor Dawes (ACRL President), Cindi Trainor (LITA President), and everyone else elected yesterday. As a sign of the times, I first learned this yesterday from a dear colleague’s post to my Facebook wall. So this is an unusually short post from me, because I’d like to shut up and listen: how can I be part of the change you want to see in ALA?

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37. My San Francisco

I missed a weekly post due to the blowback from my wild travel experience, which not surprisingly, given my exhaustion and my exposure to so many travelers, was followed with a monster head cold which stubbornly clung to me during a Very Important Week that broached very few opportunities to rest. (I am already worrying that on the flight to New Zealand I will get appendicitis, even though I have never had a problem with my appendix and am overall in excellent health. Perhaps I should pre-tape my talk, if nothing else than to ease my mind.)

I feel unprepared to write this post, but I urgently need to write about something other than work (let alone tend to any of the “small” work-and-professional chores continuously piling up like dirty laundry), this being the part of the semester where we stumble about with dead-man stares, fantasizing about the week after Commencement, which while full of its own responsibilities, will feel like a spa experience compared to the annual end-of-year crush.

So consider this the first of occasional posts about my fair city.  N.b. If you’re planning a trip, don’t feel you need to leave Union Square or Fisherman’s Wharf, or pass up a trip to Alcatraz or the redwoods for my suggestions. My San Francisco is a homebody’s place, and you’ll enjoy your visit even if you never discover the Vietnamese crab at Thanh Long (a mouthwatering meal there a decade ago inspired me to take a cooking class for Dungeness crab, now our favorite winter “home cooking”), nosh on warm piroshki from the Cinderella Bakery, stroll down Irving Street on a sunny afternoon, or climb up the steep, steep stairs of Grand View Park for a stunning 360 view of the city (a walk I took daily until we joined the Millberry fitness center at UCSF, where I treadmill and read with an equally stunning view of SF’s nicest hilltops).

It’s just so wonderful to live somewhere that the ordinary rarely is!

Things-to-do: One of our favorite Sunday-afternoon activities is to head to Crissy Field, in the Presidio, where I sedately jog and Sandy strolls. It’s an inconvenient drive from the Inner Sunset, where we live, but it’s so extraordinary to cavort directly under the Golden Gate Bridge, and the convenience of the lovely and eponymous Warming Hut and the seductive fragrance from the Let’s Be Frank hot-dog stand make it all so civilized.

Food and Drink: Caveat: our prandial excursions to be convenient, price-smart, and not a drawn-out affair. We only rarely get to a fancy restaurant for a signature meal out, preferring small plates and more casual experiences. So take that in context when I say some of my favorite restaurant/bar experiences from the past couple of years include Manna (small neighborhood Korean joint, inexpensive, terrific ban chan, and I can get my favorite dish, duk bok gi), Magnolia (food and beer are nothing spectacular, but it’s a comfy place with great people-watching, and it’s on the 6 line), Marnee Thai (numinously delectable Thai food right down the hill from us), Hog Island (good oysters for sure, but also best grilled cheese sandwich EVER–courtesy of a lunch treat from a friend), the hash browns at Art’s Cafe, the chowder (and just about everything else

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38. American Airlines: Social Gurus Extraordinaire

Hard to believe, right? I associate American with slightly tired upholstery, old planes, no plugs (on the planes or in the waiting areas), long flights without food to be had, and a web presence that proudly shouts 2002.

So Wednesday mid-day, as we were supposed to be descending into Dallas — I was planning to hoof my way to a tight connection to Austin — I realized that the cloud mass to my right seemed all too familiar. I had seen it before, more than once, I was sure. Sure enough, the pilot’s voice announced, very calmly, that we were circling, due to tornadoes on the ground.

Tornadoes on the ground?

This was a plane without wifi (of course), though I saw some folks surreptitiously fire up their phones to try to find a signal (and I can’t fault them, though I decided to wait until we were somewhere on terra firma). So we circled a while, and then diverted to San Antonio, where we all sat on the tarmac listening to the same phone recording telling us to call back later because the lines were tied up.

At 2:25 pm it occurred to me to tweet my plight to @AmericanAir. At 2:26 pm I got a direct message (private tweet) in reply.

Tweeting with American Airlines

Tweeting with American Airlines

In the next 36 hours, I had to decide whether to fly back to DFW or deplane in San Antonio (I deplaned, later catching a Greyhound bus to Austin, more about that below); figure out when and how I was returning to SFO; and otherwise navigate an unexpected turn of events caused by 12 tornadoes suddenly scudding across Texas. The whole way I had The @AmericanAir account on Twitter as my wingman.

Some Twitter accounts are staffed by marketing shills; some by empathetic but not particularly adept company reps. I got the 20-year company veteran. She (we eventually talked by phone) was professional, caring, smart, expert, and full of good ideas.  Knowing I really wanted to make my talk in Austin the next morning, she didn’t push me to return to DFW. When my record locator vanished from the airline’s website, she reassured me my reservation existed. When my flight was canceled (as I learned from an airlines robocall), she assured me I would be rebooked soon–and I was. When my flight details didn’t show up in my account, she tweeted them.

I only had one time when I felt unnerved: when after deplaning in San Antonio I realized there were no rental cars left, the airport’s cell signals were weak or nonexistent, and the airport’s “information centers” were staffed by cranky good ol’ boys who couldn’t be bothered to help me find a way to get to Austin from San Antonio. “You’ll have to look that up online,” sniffed one of them. For ground transportation I had no angel on my shoulder. I finally found a spot where I could get on AT&T and bought a Greyhound ticket online,  then cabbed it to the station.

Now, about Greyhound. I got almost a 50% discount for buying my ticket online. But I can tell you this: most of the people in the dilapidated station were on the analog side of the digital divide; they weren’t in a position to buy tickets online. I demonstrated how an iPad worked to no less than three people; as the bus pulled out (close to an hour late, due to a flat tire — it was definitely not my day for travel karma) I brought up videos of the tornadoes on request of the woman sitting next to me. I am certain the fellow in front of me, who shyly told me he was on his way to another halfway house, could have used the $12 I saved more than I. That online discount only b

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39. Perhaps we shall meet?

I had been patiently waiting for the new edition of the Penguin History of New Zealand. I had the impression that a sparkling updated edition would be published this March –  I can’t remember why I thought that. Then I did a little research and realized a new edition was likely not forthcoming, at least not one written by the original author.

With that in mind, I’m updating my friends on my goings-on for the next few months, in case we overlap on this side of the heavenly divide. And here’s a link to a summary and audio of the panel discussion I was on last month at the Independent Book Publishers Association meeting in San Francisco with Peter Brantley and Sarah Houghton. As fun as that was (the room was packed!), the best part of my morning there were the one-on-ones with authors I did after the panel — how satisfying in a biblish manner to connect with authors and answer questions.

April 3-4, ER&L: As noted last week, whooshing in and out of Austin to participate in a closing panel.

April 12, OCLC member webinar: “Join us for a live, one-hour Web session and hear from Karen Schneider of Holy Names University as she discusses how WorldCat Local transformed her users’ library experience.” Wait, that’s me! And I need to do my slides! It should be fun. Standard disclaimer: no software by itself can tranform user experience — but combined with an awesome Team Library, WCL has played a key role.

April 27: DPLA West, by Digital Public Library of America (San Francisco). I didn’t realize this event was happening until I saw a travel scholarship for it. Since it’s $4 round-trip for me, I passed on the scholarship, but I am looking forward to rubbing shoulders with the bibliodigerati.

May 4: Library Journal Design Institute (Denver). “This one-day educational seminar brings together leading architects, librarians, and vendors to address the challenges and opportunities we face in building anew, renovating, or upgrading existing buildings…” LJ’s institutes are generally quite good, and I chose this one as part of my DIY effort to learn about building projects. The orientation tends to be public libraries, which in my book is a plus — lots of emphasis on curb appeal and user comfort.

June 21-26: American Library Association, Anaheim. Speaking of digerati, I’m going to make every effort to attend the Opening General Session, featuring Rebecca MacKinnon, global information activist and author of Consent of the Networked. What an outstanding choice! I’m also pondering attending the ACRL Standards workshop, particularly given its utility for accreditation self-study.

September 23 – 26: LIANZA, Palmerston North, New Zealand. See this earlier post. I am thinking I will need to take two or three personal retreat days after Commencement to work on my presentation, catch up on reading, and wrap my head around both the travel logistics and the event. But I’m thrilled to be attending and glad that I am being ch

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40. Ruminating over Leadership

During Holy Week, I am making a short pilgrimage to the ER&L Conference in Austin to participate in a panel on leadership with Bonnie Tijerina and Char Booth. We met last week to explore this panel and review possible questions we’d field.

I think particularly for women, the hardest part of leadership is owning it. This is in part because there are still so many messages in society that men lead and women follow (look at the disproportionate number of men holding high-level library administration positions).

But for all leaders, the more experience we have leading in any role — internal or external to our official organizations — the more nuanced our approach to leadership and the more we are aware of what leadership actually takes. We get smarter, we ask ourselves harder questions, we see more angles to every issue, we want to examine things more closely. We have closets full of “lessons learned.”

And quite often the most powerful leadership is happening invisibly around us, in ways we will never know or understand. There are many moving mountains in ways that will never be officially recognized, and not always out of modesty. Some of the best leadership needs to happen very quietly, tiptoeing in with little cat feet.

Some parts of leadership are simply quite boring. Yes, you heard that: leadership involves doing things that are dull, annoying, even stupid. I think of the public library directors sitting in town meetings year after year, listening to reports about dog bites and minor rezoning requests. Yet they do it to ensure that the library has one more soupcon of visibility.

I think of me, volunteering as secretary to Faculty Senate this year (ONLY this year, I keep reminding them…). Is it leadership to spend my personal time formatting minutes? Yes, because building and maintaining strategic relationships is part of leadership. (This role also ensures that I’m paying attention to what’s going on at Faculty Senate–not a bad idea, as I’m a voting member.)

So I’ll go ahead and claim my situational leadership, both externally (as in my leadership with Internet filtering in the 1990s — which I did without official blessing from any internal or external organization) or internally (with several libraries and library organizations that needed coherent vision and a push forward).

That Certain Someone

When we reviewed the questions we might consider, I particularly liked, “Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Maybe some one who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life?”

It’s interesting that people (and I include myself) always read this in a positive way. I rarely mention my first full-time job, in a juvenile court system, where my boss’s boss staggered in roaring drunk every morning to create havoc in a department that was already frantically busy handling the overnight intake. Or the “leader” of that court system, who I naively visited (I was all of 19) to report the situation, as if he didn’t know it. He sat there in his fancy suit fiddling with his watch band, waiting for me to leave.  After I had moved on, that woman had a heart attack one morning, driving into the court’s parking lot, and before she died at the wheel of her car she injured several people, one badly.

Then there was the captain at the airbase in Germany who sexually harassed two young female airmen every day, leering at them and talking openly of their breasts and so forth. He did this in front of me, knowing that in a corrupt system I had nowhere to go — and by this, I refer not to the military at large, but to the private hell of that sad location. I reported him, and in time he was duly promoted. Your tax dollars at work.

I’ve had other lame jobs, but in comparison, most of those have been silly-lame, no

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41. Chauncey Bailey: Paying the Price for Free Speech

Chauncey Bailey

Chauncey Bailey

Last week, investigative reporter Thomas Peele  gave a talk at my library (Holy Names University) about his book, Killing the Messenger.

I re-read the book this weekend to remind me of the details. In doing so, one of the key ‘details” that made my reacquaintance was the life and death of Chauncey Bailey.

Bailey wasn’t a perfect person. Gunned down at 57 while walking to work in Oakland, his best years as a reporter were behind him.  After a solid career at several major dailies, he’d had a few reversals of fortune before ending up at the tiny community newspaper where he was editor-in-chief.  If Bailey had been murdered for anything less than being the first U.S.  reporter in over thirty years to be intentionally silenced in the line of duty, none of us might remember him.

But in 2007, Bailey was still in the saddle, doing his best to speak truth to power — to unveil the decades of crime and dysfunction inflicted on Oakland by Yusef Bey and his cotillion of  thugs, sycophants, and wack-jobbies.

Killing the Messenger isn’t a perfect book. (Nota bene: there is no perfect book. Books are by people, and people are imperfect.) I agree with the Columbia Journalism Review that the first three chapters unnecessarily sensationalize Oakland.

But after that, the book hits its stride. We move back in time, to the origins of the splinter group of the splinter group once loosely associated with Islam. We see the great migration to the North and the great disappointment of African-Americans who learned that racism was endemic in our culture, not just the South. We see the movement westward. And in bits and pieces we learn about Chauncey Bailey.

I connected with Chauncey Bailey’s story. I know what it’s like to be 50-something and not be at the best place in my life. Right now I’m in a redemption curve. I’m the director of a incredibly small university library and we’ve done some great stuff. Chauncey didn’t get that opportunity, but in the right scenario, it might have played out that way.

Chauncey also reminds me of Warren, a smart and knowledgable contractor we worked with in New Jersey who was in his line of work because his high-powered industry began laying off 50-something men during a lean phase–and if you aren’t young, you don’t know what it’s like to be aging and jobless (a male friend of mine, turning 50, commented that he now knew what it meant to be female). Warren did well with his life — he died a few years back playing tennis, God rest his soul — , but I assume Warren had more than a few days when he woke up wondering what the hell happened.

After I finished re-reading Killing the Messenger, I played the what-if game for a while. What if the Oakland Post hadn’t spiked the story he wanted to publish. What if his killers had a different timetable. What if he had taken a different route to work that morning.

But in the end, there were no what-ifs. Chauncey was murdered. Thankfully, eventually, his death was brought to justice. With the help of his peers, he was able to file his last story.

I work in a small religious institution, which gives me latitude. At the beginning of our talk, I began with a moment of silence for Chauncey as well as for journalists everywhere. Not just to honor their deaths, but their lives. As we paused, the library filling with our breathing and our silences, I thought about Chauncey, putting on his suit,

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42. Heartsick

I realize this is old news for many of you by now (a full 24 hours after the story broke) but I waited until I was home and — donning my writer’s hat — could compose my thoughts about the discovery that Mr Daisey and the Apple Factory is composed of lies, damn lies, and even more lies.

This isn’t about what is or isn’t journalism; it’s about the larger genre of nonfiction, so called because IT’S. NOT. FICTION. Daisey not only undermined what has been an important assessment of a major tech company’s practices, he sullied the creative nonfictioneers everywhere who work hard to stay within the bounds of truth.

Creative nonfiction is hard to pull off. Assuming you aren’t Mr. Daisey or James Frey, you’re challenged (I almost wrote “stuck”) with creating a smooth, compelling narrative from the messy details of real life.

I have workshopped with fiction writers who became impatient with CNF’s demands and suggested, repeatedly, that the work either be recast as fiction or that fictitious details be added to “improve” it. But a great piece of nonfiction cannot simply be labeled fiction and done with; quite often what is powerful about the piece is that it really happened. And making stuff up is lying pure and simple.

What grieves me most about this incident is that Daisey didn’t need to do it. He had many options for putting the truth on stage. He could have stayed within the boundaries of his own investigation, leaving out the wholesale lies and downsizing the exaggerations to their truthful contours. He could have reached out to an investigative reporter or researcher for assistance. But he chose the lazy path.

At noon today I’m going to listen to This American Life’s retraction (titled, very humbly and directly, Retraction). I could listen to it right now on one of my many devices. But I feel somehow that radio honors the occasion.

43. The impact of Random House price increases

As many of you know, last week Random House raised its Overdrive ebook pricing a lot. Not 20-percent-a-lot. More like 300-percent-a-lot. Enough so that a cart of 9 ebooks I had in Overdrive, only some of which were Random House, suddenly bloated to nearly $500 before I deleted the RH titles… dropping the total to $78.

Here’s how this price increase impacts the reading ecology:

If librarians fill demand for RH titles, we have to buy fewer books from other publishers… not to mention fewer RH copies. If you’re responding to user demand for the most popular titles, that means more small publishers go on the chopping block. (Adios, Cassoulet!)

If you reduce the number of RH copies you purchase, your users now have much longer hold waits for these books. Like everything else in life these days, something that is a public good is rationed through an increasingly narrow funnel.

If librarians do as I did and stop buying RH ebook titles (because I’m not running a public library, and our popular-reading is important but not our top-tier priority), readers who want these books only have the paper option. You may say that’s perfectly fine, but stay with me while I detour to discuss in brief one of the less-insightful commentaries that emerged.

Over on TechCrunch, a writer opines that this price increase is a necessary evil. Devin writes, “These companies are faced, after all, with the prospect of selling one book and having it lent to a hundred people at once (though that is not the case here)” — my emphasis.

Right, it’s not the case here. The way Overdrive works, books are “checked out” just like paper books. These books can’t be renewed, and they can’t be loaned to others. One person, one book. We’re all aware it’s a horseless carriage of a workaround based on a known model, but all the players do get how it works.

Furthermore — and this is where the comment about paper comes in — for all the enormous, sparkling crocodile tears trickling down the face of Random House, as Bobbi Newman pointed out on Twitter, they had a boffo good year last year in re profits, and a lot of that was due to ebooks.

Why shouldn’t they have had a good year? They now have a supply channel that (to turn the publishing industry’s own NewSpeak back on itself) is almost frictionless. They don’t have to print, predict, ship, store inventory, ship it back when it’s not sold, or pulp it. I’m no tax lawyer, but I also suspect that publishers get a major revenue boost by no longer having taxable inventory sitting in physical warehouses.

And of course, publishers aren’t turning any of this revenue over to the people who make the books worth reading — the authors.

If you read the ensuing comments on the TechCrunch post, you’ll see that the author subscribes to the publishing-world-is-going-away model (or at least backpedals to that idea, in the face of indignant responses). In this model, if I’m reading him correctly, the publisher’s behavior is rational (if not appropriate) because they’re raking in money before Everything Changes and the current publishing model disappears — which I suppose we could label as thoughtful behavior for publishing execs whose children expect to go to college.

I won’t spend more time guessing what this writer believes, but what I believe in is nothing less than Ranganathan’s First Law: Books ar

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44. Research: Nobody goes there any more. It’s too crowded.

Part of that heading, attributed to Yogi Berra, is how I think about the research process, as I dig into all things New Zealand.

The over-abundance isn’t so much about raw materials (books, articles, movies, websites, etc.) as the vast and discordant array of vehicles for all this stuff–a world that is also more contradictory, spotty, motile, and “analog” than many think these days.  This isn’t new to librarians; it’s our life. But it’s good to actually walk the walk once more (and outside of the area of library science).

My first intentional “reading” was a viewing last night of the movie Samoan Wedding (known in New Zealand as Sione’s Wedding), which introduced me to the rather slim oeuvre of Samoan New Zealand Bromances (Twitter friends tell me the sequel debuts this very week).

Like most bromances, Samoan Wedding was crude in all directions, but I liked it very much — for a bromance, the women were exceptionally varied, and the story kept us laughing and involved. There were some interesting sartorial moments; I am trying to identify what the men wore to the wedding (lava-lavas?).

We watched Samoan Wedding because it was available through Netflix instant viewing. I queued DVDs for a few more movies I found via these two Wikipedia pages (which in true Wikipedia fashion overlap and contradict one another, and yet are very useful). I put a few more DVDs unavailable through Netflix into my Amazon queue, with a note to self to purchase a region-free player, since the DRM for DVDs is managed through an inexplicable geopolitical system which presents all manner of obstacles to access for honest viewers (and based on the web chatter, little problem for the dishonest).

What I wanted to read first was The Penguin History of New Zealand. I requested the book as a pickup at my local SFPL branch (after paying my fines…), since I see the 2012 edition is due out in February and I am too cheap to buy a waning edition. Meanwhile, I’ll slake my Kiwi Fever by using my Kindle app on my iPad to purchase the Lonely Planet guide while I start digging up books to request via interlibrary loan (I loved the back-and-forth about Lonely Planet vs. Rough Guide — a fine customer debate).

Using WorldCat Local, I have also been browsing contemporary and wartime narratives, both of which I find a window into understanding the world. I see that the closest print copy of New Zealand at War is in… New Zealand, which is also true of New Zealand servicewomen, World War One, and so forth.

I found an interesting title about mariners in World War II — Hell or high water : New Zealand merchant seafarers remember the war — and will buy it for my Kindle app, but it is here I must pause to ask my fellow writers to stop using the phrase “Hell or High Water” in their titles. The fact that copyright law generally does not apply to book titles does not make you any cleverer for forcing searchers to page through piles of identically-titled books (just as I was going to call this post A Fine Bromance until I Googled it–I’m several years late to that party. And yes, my Yogi Berra title isn’t all that clever, either).

At any rate, I’m at that early point in the research process, well before the refinement period, where research is inchoate because I&r

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45. Coming home

Sutro Tower and Moon

Sutro Tower and Moon

That’s what I’m doing right now, ensconced in my  window seat in coach on my flight home, playing Aretha Franklin’s “Young, Gifted, and Black” tuned up loud enough to drown out the food-smackers behind me while I tidy up trip reports and budget forecasts and put the buff on a small preservation planning grant.

But it was also what I did at ALA…

… When I picked up my badge and began my peregrinations through meetings and exhibits

… When I met up with old and new colleagues over dinner, coffee, lunch, walks down the street, hugs in the hallways

… When I walked into the Council chambers at ALA Midwinter to hustle up a few signatures for my petition to run as an at-large Council candidate.

I felt it was time to get back into ALA governance. I had been puzzling over whether this was, in fact, the right thing for me to do (in addition to LITA Nominations and GLBTRT External Relations and the occasional panel, such as the “ROI in Academic Libraries” Springer hosted last Friday) until I walked into the Council Chambers.

When I push open our door tonight, I know what to expect: Sandy, our cat Emma, my favorite spot on the green couch, a pile of unopened mail, the Sutro Tower twinkling on the hill. I am not being arch when I say I had a similar (if not quite as numinous) experience in the Council chambers today, when I tweeted that I had a petition and within minutes it was overflowing from signatures from Councilors both fresh and well-aged.

I sat a spell, watching the text transcripts unfold on the wall, watching Councilors debate and stand up and stretch and fill out ballots and knit and scoot onto the Web. (A colleague asked me how anyone could “stand” to be in Council for all those hours, and I replied, “These days, the Internet.” By gum, when I was in my first term we sat there in our analog misery, front and center!)

There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since my third term on Council. Financial downturn for my job (Librarians’ Internet Index). The move to Florida. The Florida Era. The move back to California. I’m still me, six years later, but I have that slightly smudged patina of accumulated experience.

We don’t get an Undo button in life, however useful that would be. We’re blessed and cursed with our history. One truth I have had to learn is that for some of us — many of us? — our sense of place looms large in that history.

For many years I preached — and lived — the mantra of “geographic flexibility.” Education, jobs, other opportunities: first I, then we, could follow the wind. I have repeatedly counseled librarians that they had to have geographic flexibility for their careers. I judged them for not seeking jobs far and wide. I looked to myself as an example–I, who had lived worldwide.

Yet it took the Florida Experience to teach me why some people — and I now realize I am in their numbers — have an allegiance to the place they call home so powerful that it is on the other issues in life that they compromise.It’s not that Florida was insanely horrible; it’s that experiences that were less than stellar (and life always has them) took place in a context of alien other-ness — and it was this alien experience that made them sad, at times overwhelmingly so.

There’s an expression, generally condescending: “She knows her place.” It’s too bad it’s never intended as a compliment. I do indeed know my <

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46. Celebrating Sanctuary

So let me begin with a quote from a Project Information Literacy interview with Jeffrey Schnapp about the ongoing debate about the future of academic libraries:

As far back as the libraries of Pergamon and Alexandria, libraries have combined functions of storage, sifting and activation. They have been places of burial, preservation and worship of a certain past, where retrieval, resuscitation and animation of dormant/stored knowledge was integrated into the shaping of the present and future. It is the access, animation and activation pieces that are now moving front stage and center, while the storage and burial functions move offsite even as they remain just as essential as ever.

Back in November I held the first of three sessions of a Library Vision Task Force. This group (and do we have fun), composed of representatives from nearly every department on campus, is charged to develop a mission statement and then a vision statement for our library. This vision statement will play a crucial role in driving development efforts for a library that has largely not been “re-thunk” since construction completed in 1958.*

Some of the re-thunking can’t wait for The Vision Thing, most specifically our 10-year-old, heavily-used computer classroom that is receiving development attention as we speak. But the “bigger things” can and must wait for broader direction; as much as I and Team Library might have all the bright ideas in the world, and as eager as we are to move “forward,” it is crucial that the library reflect the will, direction, and zeitgeist of the entire campus.

(N.b. I adopt an air of Yoda-like mystery when I am asked if we should renovate or rebuild; honestly, until the facility assessment is funded, how the heck would I know? The building appears to have lovely bones, but I don’t have X-Ray vision or a degree in seismic engineering, architecture, or accessibility design.)

Floating Conference Room (Brisbane, AU)

Floating Conference Room (Brisbane, AU)

The pre-work for our meeting were observation exercises — their call whether they did them in our library or in a new or newly-renovated library (of any flavor). I left the observation activities wide open. All they had to do was observe.

Most of that first meeting centered on sharing those observations, some of which surfaced during a slideshow I presented , which was not so much a talking-head presentation as a call-and-response — my favorite and most unexpected moment was the sheer horror the Visioneers expressed at that suspended conference room in Brisbane, Australia; a thing of beauty, yes, but emotionally uncomfortable to people living in an earthquake zone–something that mirrored my initial reaction when I saw that room, though I thought I was being a sissy.

One key finding from the observations was that people often use the library out of context of library-owned materials. They bring their own books, or they tote laptops, or they simply sit and “be.” Some study in groups, some read, some meditate, some stroll. In fact, though I have incontrovertible proof this activity still takes place (and in our library is anomalously on the rise), the only recorded observations of users retrieving books from library shelves came from public libraries.

So I posed the questions: We observe all these people coming into the library with their own m

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47. ipad junky

This week was a bit wild and wooly, so my “Monday” post is happening on Thursday at the Oakland airport. But as squeezed as I am for time, I am enough of an iPad junky that when I realized I had left my iPad at home–for a one-day trip to a SCELC board meeting in Riverside–I said to myself, no problem; I’ll swing by my house on the way to SFO.

Then I doublechecked my reservation and realized I was flying out of Oakland…

And I drove back to SF, grabbed my iPad (and with a little wiggle room sealed the deal on my SuperShuttle res from ONT to the hotel and printed a boarding pass… if only to dignify the trip, as if I couldn’t have done that at work), drove back to Oakland, and am now writing this post on said iPad. (Using a Verbatim folding keyboard which has a white case almost identical to a purse I owned in the first grade.)

The guy next to me watched me pull out my iPad, keyboard, and iPhone and said, “That’s a lot of electronics.” “Mmmm-hmmm!” I responded.

But while it is a “lot of electronics,” all of it fits easily in my purse, which also has print copies of The Atlantic and Harper’s for those agonizing minutes during takeoff and landing when I must reenter the analog lifestyle. And beyond its portability, the iPad is its own well-designed perfect universe, as immaculately tempting as a Martha Stewart kitchen.

I’m mindful of the recent press about Apple’s labor practices. The best coverage–which I haven’t seen referenced in the shocked-and-indignant Big Media articles that followed–was the audio essay on This American Life, “Mr. Daisy and the Apple Factory.” I listened to it twice, mesmerized and disturbed. I cannot reconcile these perfect, addictive devices with the inhumane practices that produce them. I cannot reconcile my own complacency with the urgency of that story. I don’t know exactly how to proceed. I do know that I can’t turn away.

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48. Neologists Unite

Back in 2004 I coined a term, “biblioblogosphere,” that managed to catch on. I wasn’t trying to coin a term. (What an interesting phrase, involving smelting and mints and all that.) I was just writing, and that’s the word that came out–not a hyphenated expression, not a malapropism, just a word, intended to be humorous–long, pompous, a little retro, with a good “scan,” as the poets say.

I think one reason “biblioblogosphere” caught on is that it was immediately challenged. I am not a linguist (though I do like the occasional tongue taco–and what a glorious city that I live in, that tongue tacos can be had at a whim). But I suspect once upon a time (now I am going to be very ahistorical, so no need to correct me) a caveperson sitting around a fire said, “Heyyyy… let’s call this: FIRE,” and several other cavepeople nibbling on bones left over from their Humongasaurus roast said “Yo, whatev” and began using the term, while three other cavepeople immediately said “That’s a terrible term!” and offered their own suggestions, like furor and fur and floober, which they then used at every opportunity (although only two of which eventually caught on, though for other use), and then the “Yo, whatev” crowd had cavepeople who became indignantly protective of their choice and said, “No, really, it’s a good term,” and that cast more light on a term that otherwise could have floated away as yet more flotsam and jetsam on the stream of self-published writing.

N.b. I have observed that on occasion, some genders are more reluctant than other genders to let other genders create new terms. But I will not dwell on that.

(Incidentally, that 2004 post referenced “weblog,” a term since shortened to “blog,” perhaps because “weblog” was hard to pronounce? When did it die, or do I care?)

I didn’t get serious or weepy about being challenged (at times, in lengthy and indignant tomes), or even about the long-term viability of “my” word… though it made me laugh at the nature of people. I didn’t have a lot invested in seeing my neologism push its delicate tendril through the soil and establish mighty trunk and roots. (Aside from this strange offshoot, which I just discovered.)

At the time, I had spent several years as senior editor on a weekly newsletter, and I was steeped in words in a way that (oddly enough) is not true in higher ed, unless you think the following are real words: promulgate, synergy, utilize… which I do not.  I had a quotidian attention to words that fertilized my brain at both conscious and unconscious levels.

That attention emerged again last week, at least briefly, when after an hour of mission-statement exercises with our cross-campus Vision Task Force (more fun than it sounds, especially since we served lunch) I stepped back and announced, to a collective gasp, that our verbs were flabby. I then rushed in to assure everyone that we had done very very good work and so forth.

There was some energetic thinking done that day, and we are on the road to a real mission statement, but — and I mean this very seriously — my leadership includes the awareness that I am “good with words,” and that something good can almost always be forged into something much better. Part of writing (and this comes from the MFA workshop experience, as well) is to understand that I am obligated to be merciless with my writing. When I am absolutely sure an essay is ready to be submitted for publication, I then send it to several more people for comments, and give it

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49. Between an ebook and a hard place

Last week the ever-interesting Barbara Fister observed over on Inside Higher Ed,

People are beginning to notice that big publishers are not really all that interested in authors or readers; they are interested in consolidating control of distribution channels so that the only participants in culture are creators who work for little or nothing and consumers who can only play if they can pay.

Barbara elegantly collapses into one sentence the last several years of the ebook wars and, even more importantly, identifies all stakeholders in the reading ecology: not just publishers and libraries, but authors and readers.

The Growing Crisis

Over the last year or so, there has been spluttering (sometimes from me) at individual publishers such as HarperCollins (they of “26 checkout” fame), distributor-packagers such as Overdrive, and of course, the idiot library administrators who sign contracts they obviously haven’t read, or they would never have entered into those agreements, right? (That spluttering definitely didn’t come from me, being one of those administrators.)

But Barbara is pointing out that while the problem has many moving parts, the entire reading ecology is at risk; we are, in her terms, in an “apocalypse.” It is really nothing less than an outright assault on fair use; the publishing-industrial complex won’t be happy until readers are paying, not just by the title, but by the page-turn.

Barbara and I have an interesting convergence: we are both librarians-authors-readers (except she can write entire books, while my attention span ends at the essay). By author, I mean (full disclosure: HUSTLE AHEAD!) non-industry writing, such as the forthcoming The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage (Roost Books, Fall, 2012; edited by Lisa Catherine Harper and Caroline Grant), in which you will find my revised and republished essay, “Still Life on the Half-Shell” (first published in Gastronomica) about oysters, the locavore movement, and how I came to terms with life in Tallahassee. My essay includes exquisitely clear instructions on eating oysters Southern-style (complete with a photograph), making Cassoulet an obvious “must buy” for all library collections.

But my point isn’t about whether I am expecting to make a living from essays such as “Half-Shell.” My day job is my income; I can’t even remember if I am getting a small one-time payment, though I had such good editorial input from Lisa and Caroline that the revision process was its own mini-post-grad workshop, and I have a food essay floating out there that is significantly better for the lessons learned for “Half-Shell.”

My point is that it’s important, both ethically and strategically, for advocates of the right to read to understand that creators should have the option and the right to make a living from their creations, and that our advocacy, right now, at this moment in history, is crucial to ensure that right.

It’s also the reader’s right to support creators, which they can do either directly (buy my book!) or indirectly (fund libraries, and they will buy my book). Some of us in society will “buy” books, by way of funding libraries, that we never read ourselves or that we choose to purchase on our own, but we understand that the town pump benefits everyone — a take on the world that is less popular in certain circles, but only underscores our value to society.

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50. Burnt Offering

These days Sandy and I are working on estate planning, which with each new email or delivery from our diligent lawyer plunges us into gloom. How nice to know we have things wrapped up in every imaginable angle! If I die! If she dies! If we both die simultaneously! If we are dining with my sister and all three of us die at once! Not to mention all kinds of situations involving incapacity.

Estate planning makes us even more irritated because we’re not legally married. Sometimes people think we are, because we married in 2004, but those marriages were invalidated and will (almost undoubtedly) never become valid again. The additional expense is costly and irritating, and wouldn’t go away even if marriage were legal in California, because estate law is, in many respects, tax law, and that means the Feds.

Meanwhile, in a happy confluence, for actual real-world research purposes, I am looking into the laws surrounding the disposition bodies after death, including scattering of ashes, particularly in the aftermath of Allan Vieira, the Bernie Madoff of ash-scattering scams. What did I dig up from the LA Times? (Get it… DIG UP?)

“The outrage led Assemblywoman Lynne Leach (R-Walnut Creek) to introduce legislation last year that would stiffen regulations on people who scatter human ashes.”

Ok, yes, that was beneath my usual standards, but it’s Sunday morning and I haven’t punched my weekly blog post card, and I appreciate anything that relieves the gloom of estate planning. I admit I snickered like a 9-year-old who just saw her teacher’s bra strap.

Expect more tomorrow on the Random House ebook price hikes–a post written but embargoed for Monday’s delectation.

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