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By: Jessamyn West,
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I needed to fix a thing with my reading list so I needed a widget-ready theme so I changed to this one and had a “to do” item to update and then a number of things happened, none of which are interesting. So it’s been a while and I have a few things to mention.
1. If you see something weird or broken with this theme, please drop me a note? I got very into working on it and then less into it and I’m concerned that I was not totally done.
2. You may have seen this amusing article that I was interviewed for a while back. 3 Ridiculous Misconceptions About Dating a Librarian. It’s amusing. I was asked to link back to it. I said I would. And then I haven’t updated my website since. Sorry about that. Here’s the link.
3. This is very important. I’ve spoken a lot about the Fair Use Best Practices documents that have been put out by the Center for Media and Social Impact. They have a new one out that you should read: Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use of Orphan Works for Libraries & Archives and other memory institutions I’m just digging into it. All of these documents have good advice and, most importantly, lots and lots of examples and processes explained by working librarians, archivists, and cultural heritage workers of all stripes. And then looked at by lawyers. Very useful with things you can put into practice. Lots of nice citations.
I’ve started a new gig writing for Medium this month, so I’m working on a few pieces about DRM and Buy Nothing Day and I’ll be sure to link to them here. My gig at the Open Standard came to an abrupt end when my editor was suddenly no longer working there after (maybe?) some GamerGate related stuff. I don’t know details but I was asked to put my articles “on hold” for the time being. It’s not quite like being fired. Meanwhile I’m working on a longer single-topic post about Ferguson and the library and what people are doing. When you’ve got the Annoyed Librarian’s non-crabby attention, you know you’re doing something right.
This title sounds fancy but mostly I needed to play catch-up and this seems like the best way to do that. Hi. In the past month I’ve done two public speaking type things that went well and some other stuff. I’ve been remiss in sharing them in a timely fashion. So now I’m sharing them in a list fashion.
- I went to Mississippi for the MLA Conference which was a great time. I led a facilitated discussion pre=conference which is the first real time I’ve done something like that. You can read the slides here: The Digital Divide and You which includes input from the discussion part of the afternoon. I stuck around for the conference and was very glad I did. I put some photos up here. Thank you MLA, the Mississippi Library Commission and especially MLA President Amanda Clay Powers for showing me a good time.
- VLA hosted a table at VT’s first annual ComicCon. This was a hugely fun event and terrific for library outreach. We had free stickers and reading lists, a display of banned graphic novels and people could get their photos taken in our “Vermont Comic Reader’s License” booth which netted a ton of delightful photographs (more on facebook). We also sponsored one of the special guests — Dave Newell, Mr. McFeely from Mister Roger’s Neighborhood) and he did storytime at the booth with puppets. I staffed the table one of the days. Such a good time. Huge shout-outs to other planners: Helen Linda, Sam Maskell and Hannah Tracy.
- Another MLA! This time the Massachusetts Small Libraries Conference (also the “first annual”) and I was the keynote speaker talking about how to Future-proof libraries. A combination of talking about what the challenges and unique positions small and rural libraries are in as well as some ways to nudge people towards getting interested in the online world. Notes and slides here. Big thanks to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners & the Massachusetts Library System.
- I started writing for The Open Standard, Mozilla’s new online-writing thing. My first article, After Some Victories, the Time Has Come to Legally Define ‘Fair Use’, has been up for a while now. I’d love to know what you think.
- Also I’m not sure if I was explicit in my “I’m moving on” post about MetaFilter but I’m still at least somewhat looking for work. I love Open Library and my local teaching but I’ve got a few more hours in my schedule and would be happy to do some more speaking, some consulting or some writing. I have a one-pager website that summarizes my skillset. Feel free to pass it along to people.
I gave a really quick “How to do an elevator speech” talk after lunch at MLA (the one in MA, not the one in MS) and it was really fun. All librarians should practice their elevator speeches. Here’s my one slide from that talk. You can probably get the gist of it.
The Vermont Department of Public Service will hold public hearings to gather public input on the final draft of the 2014 Vermont Telecommunications Plan. The Plan addresses the major ongoing developments in the telecommunications industry, including broadband infrastructure development, regulatory policy and recommendations for future action. The Department will hold two public hearings in Orange County on the public comments draft of the Plan prior to adopting the final Plan. Middle Branch Grange, 78 Store Hill Road, East Bethel, Vermont, September 18, 2014, at 2:00 p.m.
I went to this meeting. There weren’t even going to be any meetings in Orange County, the county where I live, until someone showed up at one of the Barre meetings and suggested them. So there were two meetings in Orange County last week. One during the day in Bethel and one in the evening in Strafford. Unfortunately the weather didn’t totally cooperate so there was a local power outage for some reason and a forecast of a hard frost that evening. So a lot of the farmers who would have shown up at this even had to stay home and cover plants and do other things that farmers do when the weather starts getting cold.
I’ve been doing a lot of leisure-time stuff in keeping with my theme this month but today I went to work. I sat and listened to multiple stories of farmers and other neighbors struggling with digital disinclusion. I took some notes and I made a statement. This is the polished version of what I said.
My name is Jessamyn West, I’m a technology educator in Randolph Vermont and I wrote a book about the digital divide. I have three points I’d like to make
- We’re interested in results, not projections. A lot of the data we hear talks about when we’re going to have everyone online, or points to the number of people who have this technology available. I’d like to know why people aren’t online and what we’re doing to work with those people. Saying that most Vermonters have access overlooks the chunk of people with no access who should be the focal point of future build-outs. This report talks about how Burlington Vermonters have a choice of ISPs and overlooks that most of us have almost no consumer choice at all.
- And while we’re getting people access, let’s make sure they all have the same access. People talk about 3G and 4G as if they are the same as cable or DSL. They’re not. They come with bandwidth caps, overage charges, and a lot of concern about impending lack of net neutrality. Similar to how, back when people had dial-up, some people in more remote locations had to pay for the phone calls in addition to having to pay for the service. We’re seeing the same gap now with remote users only having satellite or cellular-based access. We should strive for everyone having equitable access.
- Most important to me is what we call the empowerment or the usability divide. I heard a person earlier say she wanted to get access to the internet so that she could run a website for her small business. Just getting access isn’t going to give her a website. She’ll need resources and likely some human help in order to be able to do that. And where does that come from? It used to be that the digital divide was just “People don’t have access to computers” and then it was “People don’t have access to the internet” and now that most people have access, sometimes only through their public library, we are still seeing participation gaps. These gaps align along the same lines as other structural inequalities like poverty, educational attainment, age, race, and disability status. The people not participating are already facing multiple challenges. We know this. We need to find a way to support those people and not reinforce those inequalities.
The hardest to serve have always been the hardest to serve; the challenge of getting everyone online is going to necessarily mean having a plan for those people as well as everyone else. Thank you.
I have longtime family friends who live in Ashfield a town in central-west Massachusetts and that is about half the size of the town that I live in. Their library, the Belding Library, is celebrating its centennial with events all summer long and they invited me to talk about the future and .. where it is?
William Gibson’s notable phrase that I repeat often is “The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed” which I’ve taken as reflective of the digital divide issues generally. I have neighbors struggling with dial-up. Singapore has 100MB broadband available for $39/month. These differences matter but and wind up, over very short time periods, enhancing divides that may have started out smaller. And for technology’s end users, sometimes it can be confusing why this isn’t all better or easier by now since in many other cases we really are living in the future that we had envisioned when we were younger. So I talked a bit about that, and why we’re not there yet, and ways to make technology attractive to people so that they can possibly dip their toes into a fun project before they get stuck being forced to use it for an unfun project like taxes or health care or filing for unemployment.
You can read my notes and slides here and you might also enjoy this story of how the Belding Library (somewhat controversially) financed their library addition in part by the discovery and sale of an original Emancipation Proclamation copy that they found in their basement.
School Library Journal came out with their Diversity Issue a few months ago and it’s been on my “to read” pile since then. Their lead article Children’s Books: Still an All-White World? tells a depressing tale of under-representation of black children in US children’s books (they are the only ethnic group mentioned, I am presuming this goes doubly so for groups with smaller representation in the US) and ends with a call to action for librarians to make sure they are creating a market for these titles to encourage more books by and about all kinds of people.
I grew up in a Free to Be You and Me sort of world where my mother actively selected books for me to read with a wide range of ethnicities represented. I had dolls representing many backgrounds. My mother wrote textbooks where there were strict rules about being inclusive and representative and, living in a small town, I assumed this was the way the rest of the world worked. Not so. Reading this article drove home the point that while I may have been a young person during a rare time of expansion of titles and characters of color, that expansion slowed and the situation is still stagnant even as the US is becoming more diverse than ever. Another article in the Diversity Issue highlights research which indicates that “the inclusion of these cross-group images encourages cross-group play“. Sounds like a good thing. We should be doing more.
I really never thought that I would turn into someone who gave “pep rally” type talks, but I was asked to come to the Somerville Public Library and give a short, inspirational talk
to their friends group at their annual appreciation day and was told I could talk about whatever I wanted. As you may have realized by now, this makes my little activist heart grow three sizes and inspires good work (in my opinion). This is the talk I gave
and I am very happy with it. The library posted this summary of the talk
(there’s no audio/video other than some blurry photos) which I think is pretty right on.
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 was at the Lake Superior Libraries Symposium last week talking about the digital divide. The theme was “bridges” which was perfect because “librarians bridging the digital divide” is the subtitle of my book, now three years old. The talk was a variation of the talk I gave in Michigan, plus it had slides. You can check it out here: Bridging the Digital Divide. I had a wonderful time in Duluth and have to thank the organizers for putting on a really excellent one-day symposium.
This image, though it looks super old timey, is actually from late 2012 and is what it look like: two guys laying cable through the woods using draft horses. It’s a very dramatic image just because of the colors but I think it also shakes people up a little “Wow, there really are places in the US that aren’t there yet….” I talked a bit about the culture of learning new things and about our roles as not just teachers but emulators of good technology practices.
And it was timely because I’ve spent this week enmeshed in terrible, confusing, and poorly designed websites as a result of a job shift. I’ll talk about this more in a separate post, but in an effort to get more librarianing in my life, I’ve moved on from MetaFilter and taken a small job at the Internet Archive working for Open Library. This involved a shift in health insurance and possibly some unemployment payments (going from full-time to part-time). And, since this sort of thing is all done digitally nowadays I’ve gotten to experience first hand what it’s like to feel beaten down by technology when you feel like your money or your livelihood is dependent on it.
I am fine, nothing is wrong with me, I have health care and am still well-paid, but the creeping dread that came over me when I was worried “Did I fill this out correctly?” “What does that phrase mean?” “Why isn’t this Submit button working?” and the inability to get timely help or support via the website (I seemed to always start these processes 20 minutes after the phone support ended for the day) just made me frustrated with our culture of bad technology and poor user interfaces and made me sad for people less savvy than me having to navigate these waters and being worried that maybe the problem was them. As always, we have so far to go.
I mentioned back in January that NYPL has said they were putting all of their handouts for their tech classes online. It took a while for them to get that sorted, but they’re online now and worth checking out. There is rarely any good reason to reinvent the wheel in tech instruction. While computers and the internet have changed a great deal, many old favorites like Mousercise still deliver. There are a lot of things people point to for good tutorials and lessons, but very few that have good information in a clear and easy to understand way. For anyone who is looking to actually spend money on tutorials, Lynda.com is the definite go-go. Otherwise the short list of worth-a-damn sites continues to be short.
If you’re on facebook there is a good group there that is low traffic where people regularly swap ideas for this sort of thing (or answer questions) called Technology Training and Libraries
One of the other great things about the Rural Libraries Conference is that, in addition to giving a keynote presentation, I was also given a workshop slot to … basically do whatever I wanted. One of the things that I think is frequently missing from conference planning is some way to help people with follow-through on the ideas they get or the things they want to try or even keeping in touch with the people they meet. Conferences are often a lot of fast-paced learning and mingling and fun and weird food and odd schedules and then people come home and sleep it off and it all seems like a distant dream when they get back to work. I’m sure this is triply true if you’re at a conference someplace wacky like The Grand Hotel.
So I did a very short presentation called Maintaining Momentum and talked about some ways to keep the energy up. You can read the (very short) slide deck [pdf] to get an idea of what it was like. I did something I basically never do which was get people split up into pairs and give them a buddy to check in with in two weeks, with little handouts to swap email and ideas. We went around the room and talked about things we’d seen that we liked and might want to implement (in the library and just in life generally). I also got an email list of everyone’s contact info (note for future talks: tell people to print legibly) and learned to use MailChimp myself to send a one-time-only “Hey get in touch with your buddy” reminder which was part of what I’d vowed to learn.
It was a great presentation, people were really into it and seemed to enjoy having space for a bit of a meta-discussion about the conference while at the conference. I’m really happy I went outside my usual comfort zone to put it together, very appreciative of the great folks who showed up and gratified that people didn’t talk all the way through this one (except when they were supposed to).
Apologies in advance because this isn’t really about libraries as much as about conferencing. Maybe more of an etiquette post than anything.
I skipped April. Not on purpose. I was supposed to go to TXLA and came down with a weird lingering flu. I’m usually a “push through the pain” person but not enough to get on an airplane with a fever and potentially make other people sick. No one needs that. So I missed TXLA which was a huge bummer. They were incredibly understanding about it. And then there was a week of school vacation where I teach so I decided to hunker down in MA and get well and make sure I could make it to the Rural Libraries conference in Michigan. Upstate Michigan. The UP, where it was still frozen enough so that the ferries we were supposed to take to Mackinac Island were possibly not running. So now I was in a situation where I was rarin’ to go but the conference might not happen at all.
My main contact, Shannon White from the Library of Michigan, did an amazing job with a very difficult situation. She gave low-drama email updates (to me but also all attendees) as we got news from the ferry and told me what the timeframe was in case we’d have to cancel. When I arrived in St. Ignace (via Michael Stephens’ place, so great to see him) the weather was terrible and the flight we were supposed to take was cancelled. Many people including us were stuck there overnight when we would have preferred to be at the conference venue, the Grand Hotel. I was put up in a decent hotel and fed dinner and we discussed jockeying for ferry positions the next morning. I had warned everyone in advance of even taking this speaking gig that I was not a morning person and someone graciously got up early and got a timestamped ferry ticket for me for later in the day. This was a huge deal.
The Grand Hotel is one of those places that is fancy but also deeply committed to service. All of their 385 rooms are different. When I finally got to the hotel at about 1 pm on the day I was speaking, I was put in a crazy-looking suite that overlooked the water. Which was terrific except that there was a crew of hotel-opener people (the hotel officially opened the day after the conference closed) that was going over the front of the place with leaf-blowers and lawn tools and who knows what else. I moved my room to an equally quirky suite on the back of the hotel where I rested after a day and a half of on-again-off-again travel.
My talk about the 21st Century Digital Divide was done in an oddly-shaped room without the benefit of slides. I’ve talked about it elsewhere (short form: people who could not see or hear me talked through it) but it was a suboptimal setup which we all tried to make the best of. I got a lot of positive feedback from the state library folks despite some of the shortcomings and they made a special reminder announcement before the next keynote about not carrying on conversations while people were speaking. I heard it was great, I was asleep. My workshop the next day about maintaining conference momentum went really well and, again, I got great support from the organizers as well as the hotel when I decided I needed last-minute handouts.
All in all, despite a situation where there were a lot of things that were out of people’s control, the conference was memorably great for me personally and I think for a lot (most?) of the attendees as well. As much as people made joking “Never again!” comments, there was something about working together in unusual settings through various kinds of adversity that brings people closer together. I felt well-taken care of and appreciated as well as well-compensated. And, personally, I had a great time. The people I talked to all felt the same. Thanks, Library of Michigan.
A few links for people who like that sort of thing
I really need to upgrade this version of WordPress but I only remember when I am making a post and so I am busy. I did take the time, with other VLA members (Heidi! Helen! Sarah!) of redesigning the Vermont Library Association website. It was a great project, still a little bit in process, but I learned a lot more about responsive design and working with a team of engaged and interested people. Last weekend I went to Lexington MA to speak at the Cary Public Library. Not my usual routine, I was a guest speaker at a brunch talking about blogs. No slides, just talking. I talked about the history of this blog–15 years old this month–and other things I’ve done as a blogger. It went well. You can read the talk here: Blogs, Blogging and Bloggers. Scroll to the end to read a list of good book/reading blogs I put together. Ah, blogs!
This past weekend I went to a strategic planning retreat for one of the local small public libraries. They are in the unenviable position of needing to make some changes without really having the cash or the staffing to do those changes. The head of the board asked if I’d come in and talk about… making tough decsions, what other libraries are doing, that sort of thing. I came in to talk a little bit about Libraries I Have Known and spent about 45 minutes with a combination of local library anecdotes (I got a million of ‘em) and some data-driven talk.
The Vermont Department of Libraries puts out a terrific Giant Spreadsheet every year with a lot of information about all of Vermont’s libraries. I’ve talked about it before. However, it’s more data than most people want to deal with, which is perfectly okay. I took the giant spreadsheet and used some Excel filtering and added some averages and summaries and was able to create a much more modest spreadsheet which basically said “Show us how we’re doing compared to other libraries our size” For this project, I took all the libraries that had within 400 people population-wise and found the most salient information about those libraries (budget, circ, per capita funding, programming &c.) and then highlighted where this library fell on the matrix for these values. It didn’t take long, but it was fiddly work. At the end of it I think I had a really useful one-sheet for the board (above) and a few smaller spreadsheets so they could see where the numbers came from. It was fun. I’d love to do it for more libraries. I work in-state for pizza and Fresca (and mileage if I have to schlep someplace). Look me up.
I wrote an article for Computers in Libraries last week about the PicPedant account on twitter and the odd preponderance/problem of unsourced images flying around the internet. This is just a true thing about how the internet works and people have been misattributing things since forever. However, there’s a new wrinkle in this process where the combination of popular blogs/twitter accounts along with some of the “secret sauce” aspects to how Google works creates this odd phenomenon which can actually amplify misinformation more than you might expect. Here’s my example.
This man is Hans Langseth. I know this because I was a kid who read the Guinness Book of World’s Records a lot and I recognized him from other pictures. He has the longest beard in the world. The image on the right is a clever photoshop. However, if you Google Image search Hans Steininger, you will also find many versions of this photo. This is curious because Hans Steininger (another hirsute gentleman) died in 1567, pre-photography. His beard was also about four feet long whereas Langseth’s beard was more like 18+ feet long.
What happened? Many websites have written little lulzy clickbait articles about Steininger (sourcing other articles that themselves source actual articles at reputable-ish places like Time magazine which are inaccessible because of paywalls) and how he supposedly ironically died tripping over his own beard. They all link to the image of Langseth and don’t really mention the guy in the photograph is a different guy. The image and the name get hand-wavily semantically linked and search engines can’t really do a reality check and say “Hey, we use this image for a different guy” or “Hey, we can’t have a photograph of this guy because he lived in the 1500s”
Not a huge deal, the world isn’t ending, I don’t think the heirs of Langseth are up in arms about this. However as more and more people just presume the search engine and the “hive mind” approach to this sort of thing results in the correct answer, it’s good to have handy counterexamples to explain why we still need human eyeballs even as “everything” is on the web.
By: Jessamyn West,
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I kicked off my year of “Back doing talks” with giving the keynote talk at the METRO-NY’s annual conference. I was invited by Jason Kucsma who I know from way back in the day as one of the founders of Clamor Magazine, where I wrote an article about the USA PATRIOT Act in 2004. Jason is now the executive director of METRO-NY and we marveled at how the more things change, the more they stay the same. Clamor’s back issues are hosted at the Internet Archive. They also do Open Library which I’ve been volunteering for over the past year.
My talk was about the past eighteen months of fair use and other similar decisions that we’ve seen in the courts recently and talking about how now, more than ever, it’s a good time to start affirmatively and possibly aggressively sharing our cultural content. You can read the talk online here and see my notes.
One of my favorite things about going to conferences to speak is that I also get to go to listen. I went to three presentations and I had useful takeaways from all of them. This is what I learned.
- Beyond Digitization: Hacking Structured Data out of Historical Documents – this was a presentation by a few of the folks at NYPL labs discussing how their crowdsourced “help us structure the data in our theater program” project worked. Great demo, interesting talk. Big takeaway: data, raw data, needs to be “first class citizen” in libraries and be available like other materials. We have a lot of content that isn’t just in monograph/serial form, we should get it out there.
- Open Access is a Lot of Work!: How I Took a Journal Open Access and Lived to Tell About It – Emily Drabinski talked about how she got the Radical Teacher monograph into an open access model and how it was worth it but also a lot of work. Big takeaway: shifting the model to where you do more labor for the project instead of just paying more for it can be useful in not just bottom-line cash ways.
- Transforming Computer Training Services @ Your Library – Brandy McNeil at NYPL has turned their tech training program into a big, polished, smoothly working system. This is partly because of funding but in many ways it’s because of the buy-in she was able to get and the collaborations that she did with many other people (branch managers, marketers, IT people, etc) and she outlined how that worked and why it was worth it. Big takeaway: centralizing services and having a consistently branded approach can be very useful in a situation where you have 80+ sites and three languages and countless people and spaces to work with.
By: Jessamyn West,
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Here are previous year end lists: 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004. My always-updated booklist lives at jessamyn.info/booklist and it has its own RSS feed.
Number of books read in 2013: 50
average read per month: 4.17
average read per week: 1.04
number read in worst month: 1 (April)
number read in best month: 7 (Jan/Dec)
percentage by male authors: 76
percentage by female authors: 24
percentage of authors of color: 4?
fiction as percentage of total: 54
non-fiction as percentage of total: 46
percentage of total liked: 90
percentage of total ambivalent: 8
percentage of total disliked: 2
Some of the same patterns as last year. I didn’t travel as much and I think this means I read a bit less. I binge-read the His Dark Materials books and read every book by Brad Meltzer. The Kindle lets me plow through sort of simple fiction and humor stuff, but I’m still not really using it for non-fiction or tougher books. In looking at my to-read pile from February (above), I’m realizing I have a pile of books someplace in my house that has some of these books on it (the Miss Manners book and the RV book in particular) that I must have moved when I spruced up my bedroom. Graphic novels continue to entertain me but it’s getting harder and harder to find new long ones that I like. I still use paperbackswap.com for random serendipity–things come in from my wish list occasionally and I’m never expecting them–and to get rid of older books I just don’t need to have around.
This year I’m going to try to actively read more books by women, more books by authors of color, more non-European authors and more books that fall under the general GLBTQ umbrella. It’s too easy to fall into grabbing the most available titles and these have a tendency to reflect the mainstream. No big deal, and I read some good books, but I’d like to expand my range. It’s good to have goals.
By: Jessamyn West,
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I tracked the libraries that I visited this year, like every year. I have also done this in 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009. Ten years ago I did a short list of library visits where I actually reviwed the places I’d been. Ah to have that much free time!
I went to thirty-eight different libraries in eleven states for fifty-six visits total. Just a little more than last year. I’m sure I have forgotten some. Here’s the short annotated list of what I was doing in libraries last year. Top three libraries are the same as every year: my local public, my local academic and my summer local. All great places.
- Hartness/Randolph VT – have not been here so much in the latter part of 2012, but this is still one of my favorite academic libraries.
- Kimball VT – my local, I don’t work here as much but still go here all the time.
- Westport MA – summer library, good for DVDs and other vacation-style stuff.
- Plymouth State NH – gave a talk, saw the library. A neat looking place, with a cool clock in the entryway.
- JoCo – Desoto KS – a tiny town with a great library where I checked my email while there was a rainstorm.
- Ashtabula Public OH – stopped by on a road trip and saw a lot of people with fishing poles. A quirky big library.
- St. Johnsbury VT – was here for the Hug the Library event during the unpleasantness.
- Minneapolis MN – hadn’t been here since the redesign. Enjoyed its shininess.
- Natick/Morse MA – killing time between friends and dinner, this was a great place to hang out.
- JoCo – Lackman KS – said hello to Josh Neff here!
- Beloit Public WI – lovely library, stopped in on a road trip and enjoyed myself. Fancy and shiny and new.
- St Paul MN – met a really nice librarian who told me some great history of the place.
- Harwood HS, Duxbury VT – my friend Meghan works here, stopped by the say hello.
- Manhattan KS – the public library when I was in town to hang out with my friend Donna.
- Beebe/Wakefield MA – such a neat place with a great bee-themed marketing campaign.
- Giamatti research center NY – Baseball Hall of Fame! My friend Paul worked as an intern, was fun to look through scrapbooks.
- KState KS – Donna gave me the grand tour and we got to see the basement.
- Nebraska Library Commission NE – said hi to the terrific Michael Sauers and gave a talk here.
- Brookfield VT – first time in a tiny library so close to home.
- Omaha Public NE – big and beautiful and got to meet the woman who does programming there.
- Roxbury VT – another favorite one-room library, haven’t been there since they got a bathroom installed.
- Somerville MA – killing time before the movies, this library is always busy and has a lot going on.
- KANEKO-UNO Library NE – an arty, somewhat private library, we took a brief look around. Very cool space & collection.
- Brown/Northfield VT – lovely merging of old and new buildings.
- Chelmsford MA – saying hi to Brian!
- Boston Public MA – a nice place to chill on a chilly Boston day.
- Providence RI – Surprised I hadn’t been here before. Neat old building, oddly underused, it seemed.
- Lawrence KS – in an old Borders building while they renovated. Quite busy.
- Windsor VT – checking out the seed library, great photos of local residents.
- Hartland VT – stopping by because I was in Windsor, before Amy got there, I think.
- New Bedford Pl MA – amazing building and we got to peek at some of the artwork they were restoring.
- Topeka/Shawnee KS – a great tour by David Lee King, consummate friend to librarians everywhere.
- Lincoln Public NE – stopped in before dinner with Michael, busy and overtaxed.
- Merriam Park – St Paul MN – smaller neat suburban library.
- Union/Tiverton RI – so cute, so small! Librarian so friendly!
- Ashland NE – stopped by when I was on a drive. Neat old building, soon to be renovated, amazingly friendly and helpful librarian.
- Carney/Dartmouth MA – gosh I love this weird place and I want to go back there all the time.
- Monmouth/Manalapam NJ – doesn’t look like much from the outside but has a lot going on.
I had such a good time visiting all of these places. I can get sort of schmaltzy sometimes but I think the public library system in the US is a truly terrific thing. Here’s to another great year of library visits.
By: Jessamyn West,
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Greetings Seven Days readers. For folks who are not Seven Days readers, you might enjoy the article that was written about me this week: Jessamyn West Documents Vermont Public Libraries. I’ve had this idea kicking around for a while, to do my own version of the 251 Club where I visit and photograph all the public libraries in Vermont, all 183 of them (stats from Department of Libraries). It’s one of those this is going to take me several years projects which is AOK with me. I’ve gotten some interest from the Vermont Library Association–no surprise there–and just maybe we’ll be able to make a little Vermont Library Passport book with a list and a place you can get a date stamp marking your visit. For now though I’ve just got the big wall map that I made and some highlighter pens and my trusty Gazetteer along with this online map which I can probably improve. Of course holidaytime is not a great time to start any non-holidaytime project so it may be a bit before I get this all consolidated into one place but since the article said to check out this page for more, I thought having a little something here might be a good idea. Thanks for reading.
By: Jessamyn West,
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Karen Coyle has done an excellent write up of this so I will refer you there.
The full impact of this ruling is impossible (for me) to predict, but there are many among us who are breathing a great sigh of relief today. This opens the door for us to rethink digital scholarship based on materials produced before information was in digital form.
Folks can read the actual ruling (pdf) if they’d like. This is a very big deal. Thanks to folks who worked so hard on getting us to this place. I’ll add a few links here as they come in.
- Kenneth Crews, Columbia Copyright Advisory Office: “This ruling joins court decisions about HathiTrust and electronic reserves in demonstrating that even extensive digitization can be within fair use where the social benefits are strong and the harm to rightsholders is constrained. There will be more to come as we transition into a new era of copyright, technology, and even reading.”
- Brandon Butler, ARL Policy Notes blog; “The decision is a victory not only for transformative, non-consumptive search, but also for serving “traditionally underserved” libraries and their users, including disabled patrons.”
- Paul Alan Levy: “This ruling provides a road map that allows any other entity to follow in Google’s path.”
- Timothy Lee, Washington Post: “Many innovative media technologies involve aggregating or indexing copyrighted content. Today’s ruling is the clearest statement yet that such projects fall on the right side of the fair use line.”
- Mike Masnick at Techdirt: “It all comes together in making a very strong argument that Google’s book scanning promotes the progress of the arts and sciences just like copyright is supposed to do.”
- InfoDocket also has an updating list of links to discussion of the decision.
By: Jessamyn West,
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In the wake of the Kirtsaeng decision Wiley has, predictably, decided to raise their prices in the UK to match American prices for titles. The news I got was from a forwarded email but it appears, in part on this website as well
The price increases are the publisher’s reaction to a recent US Supreme Court ruling whereby lower priced editions bought elsewhere in the world were allowed to be sold back into the US, a market which has traditionally had higher prices than other markets. To reduce the impact on US sales, Wiley have chosen to increase the prices in the UK to match the American prices. Unfortunately we have no ability to influence this decision although our buying team has vigorously championed non-US customers against price increases.
The blog post goes on to mention that “Closer examination of Wiley’s list of titles shows that most US Edition titles have more than tripled in price.” The email I was sent also included a link to this list of comparison pricing for literally thousands of Wiley titles so you can do the math yourself.
The odd aspect to this post, to me, is that ebook prices are also going up despite the fact that ebooks can not be resold and are not, in my understanding, affected by this ruling. Am I missing something?
Hello, I was away for the summer. It seems that there has been some activity. If you’re here because you heard about my The FBI Has Not Been Here signs, here is a link to the page where I first mentioned them, back in 2005 or so. Back when this idea was getting batted around it was originally because the USA PATRIOT Act was concerning people, the idea that if you even got a National Security Letter not only would it compel you to turn over records, but it also prevented you from telling anyone other than your legal counsel. This sort of sucked and so people fought back. Most notably the people from Library Connection in Connecticut who got the gag order part of the USA PATRIOT Act declared unconstitutional. And you may have read about Brewster Kahle talking in the New Yorker about what it’s like to get a National Security Letter. Brewster is one of the strongest advocate for the right to privacy (and libraries’ right to defend their patrons’ privacy) and even he was sort of freaked out by this. Now that we’re looking into the face of the NSA looking into damned near everything and their heavy-handed tactics to get corporations to comply with them, it’s almost quaint thinking that we were just afraid of the USA PATRIOT Act. You can read more about the idea of “warrant canaries” here. I certainly didn’t think them up, just got a little traction with this one. Oh hey look there is this image over on Wikipedia’s warrant canary article. That’s nice.
For some reason last year I didn’t do my annual roundup of Banned Books Week websites. Here is a link to the source of the image above which is from the New Yorker’s article about the JD Salinger-evocative book 60 Years Later, Coming Through the Rye which is illegal to sell in the US. You can find more news articles about that situation at the author’s small Wikipedia page. You can look at past posts on this topic by checking out the bannedbooksweek tag here or here is a list of the annual posts: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. I skipped 2005 and 2012.
As usual, you get a neat real-time look at what’s going on by following the Twitter hashtag. Do NOT look at the bbw twitter hashtag as I mistakenly did last night. As usual there are two “main” sites the ALA site at ala.org/bbooks and the bannedbooksweek.org site which is really nice looking this year. The BannedBooksWeek Twitter account is still moribund which is a damned shame. The Virtual Read Out doesn’t seem to have any new videos this year… yet?
Please remember if you are a librarian who has a book that is challenged, report it to the ALA so they can keep track of it.
Here is the list of organizations who are co-sponsors. Let’s look at their websites.
PEN American Center – has this post outlining what they’re up to this week and they appear to be extended their activities for a full month and this blog post (some reflections by Nick Burd, an author whose book had been challenged) is a well-written little capsule piece.
The language of the censor is the language of the tyrant, the absolutist, the one with no vision. It is the antithesis of art because it assumes that there is only one perspective, one reality, and that anything that fails to rhyme with it is a sin against nature. But the real sin against nature is to suffocate personal truths and experiences with wobbly doctrine and to disguise it as morally just. Art— particularly literature—exists to show us there are as many worlds as there are people. Each of these worlds come with its own laws. These laws vary from person to person, but if there is one that they have in common it is to share your truth. We owe it to our humanity and our short time among other humans to respect the truths that are shared with us. – Nick Burd
Websites are working and the word is getting out. I was pleased with this year’s collections of content. What I’m concerned about, as per usual, are challenges and censorship that don’t even reach the physical items on the library shelves. What about this Salinger book? Worldcat shows 40 copies of it, a handful of which are in the US, and the reviews of it haven’t been so great anyhow. But the idea that the book wasn’t obtained and removed, it was never obtained in the first place (as we see with so much born-digital content that we can’t even get in lendable format) opens a door to all new ways that libraries can not get books. The old challenges (dirty cowboy? really? do not google that) remain and new ones appear.
By: Jessamyn West,
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I recently supported a successful Kickstarter campaign by those wonderful folks at Unshelved. They are going to make a series of librarian ranger badges. Fun, right? I think a lot of us are also aware of the Librarian merit badge that you can achieve in scouting.
Here is a badge I did not know about: the Army Special Services librarian badge which refers to the Army Hostess and Librarian Service. Special Services used to be called the Morale Division. As near as I can tell, these jobs were a special subclass of jobs set up by President Truman under the Special Services division of the War Department during WWII at Army posts. During WWI there were similar Special Services programs which created leisure “day rooms” for soldiers that were mainly staffed with American Library Association volunteers. Official organized library services were established by the Army in 1921 and service clubs/hostess houses were authorized by Congress in 1923. Here is a PDF that talks about what services Special Services offered in 1949 noting that they had seventy-seven librarians operating 197 libraries, six bookmobiles and 19 “library depots”. The colors on these patches indicated the nine different branches of the Army showing that the librarians (and hostesses) worked for the entire Army. The uniforms they wore were supposed to be worn at all times and even at home “If more than two guests were present”
Here is a photo of veteran Winona Franklin Walker (c. 1945) wearing this badge with her Special Services uniform. and here is an interview with her talking about what the work was like.
The war had just ended. Anyway, we were headed for Paris. So we spent a week in Paris being trained how to set up libraries, and we were told never to complain, that there was going to be scarcity of everything, and if the conditions weren’t to suit us, not to utter a word, that we were there to set up these libraries. And if we didn’t have materials, we’d have to scrounge around and find what we needed, and make do with what we could find. That was it. We had no fine materials or anything like that.
Apparently some early public service reference librarians were also given the title hostess but this appears to have faded away rather quickly. Nowadays in the Army we’re back to the word morale–as part of the general header “family and morale, welfare and recreation”–and the current recreational libraries of the army have this handy history page to fill in some of the gaps.
By: Jessamyn West,
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The really great thing about nearly any computer problem you might have is that it’s very unlikely that you are the first person to have it. So if you have access to the internet and Google (to get you to other online help sources like Stack Exchange and other random app sites) you can find a way to do what you want to do, often.
I am working on a long term project. I am trying to visit all of Vermont’s 183 libraries. One of the things I will need to do to get started on that project is to make a map. The Vermont Department of Libraries makes the location of most of these libraries available in an Excel spreadsheet (thanks!) I just needed to figure out how to make that spreadsheet into a map. I toyed around with the Vermont Center for Geographic information but was having trouble making a CSV file that would satisfy Silverlight’s obscure criteria. And then I found a site that would generate a KML file (for Google Earth/Maps) from a CSV file. And again, I was close, but couldn’t quite get it to work. Googling further I found this impressive site, BatchGeo, which basically says “Hey click here and paste your data and we’ll make our best guess as to how it works and then draw you a map!” I had decently clean data. I clicked and pasted, and this was the result.
View Vermont’s Public Libraries in a full screen map
Oddly, the same data file pasted in to Google winds up looking not quite so clean thanks to quirky handling of ampersands and the non-standard address format of the original data file. But who cares, all I needed was one map. 183 libraries (the most per capita of any state in the US) here I come! You can read more about Vermont’s libraries in this report by the Department of Libraries.
By: Jessamyn West,
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A friend pointed me to an article about educating novice users about technology: Joining the Surveillance Society? New Internet Users in an Age of Tracking (full article PDF). The article calls them “marginal users” which is a term I hadn’t heard before but it seems apt. While I don’t agree with every aspect of the article, the thesis is strong and worth exploring. Only some of the classes mentioned are library classes.
Recent digital inclusion policies that aim to increase digital literacy of new Internet and computer users, promote civic engagement, and improve economic development do not currently address the privacy needs of new users. This paper presents an in-depth look at surveillance and privacy problems faced by individuals who turn to digital literacy organizations for training and Internet access, including low income individuals, people of color, immigrants, the elderly, and non-English speakers. These individuals are coming online without adequate skills, know-how, and social support to confront digitally enabled government surveillance and corporate intrusions of personal privacy.
Of particular note in the article
- Competency of people doing the instructing: “Some staff members revealed that they did not know what cookies are”
- Bias of the tools being used: “A study conducted at Harvard University showed how search engine queries for “African American sounding” names yield advertisements for criminal background checks. Searches for “Caucasian sounding” names do not.”
- Appropriateness of tasks to the students: “The (computer training) center required its students to send an e-mail to any city agency or official using the agency’s or official’s website. Staff members said that a majority of their students refrained from this exercise, due to anxiety over being contacted or targeted by government.”
- Needs exceed offerings: “none of the organizations reported offering privacy education to beginning learners. (The library did offer one-off sessions for privacy and safety…) … issues related to information sharing arose in an ad hoc manner in every class observed.”
The New America Foundation who published the report has a board of directors chaired by Eric Schmidt from Google.
By: Jessamyn West,
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For $40 you can have a iphone case that looks like it was taken from a library that doesn’t believe in patron privacy. As much as I adore the idea that someone would be checking out a Shakespeare book nearly weekly (in 2013! It’s free on the internet) and personally love the iconography of these cards, it’s always amusing to see them in the wild appropriated as something fashionable. Kate Spade has a bunch of new library-themed items which must mean that at least somewhere, libraries are seen as something that are worth money. Fun fact, the signatures on the library card–the ones that make my librarian heart agitated–are names of Kate Spade employees. Hester Sunshine is a Kate Spade blogger. Erin Graves works in marketing, as does Noura Barnes and Sophia Smith and Wendy Chan. Julie Ly is in PR and Suzanne Schloot works in social media marketing. Other folks have signatures that are too obscure (smart move) or names that are too general to track down.
So hey, this is nice and a bunch of people have sent it to me. At the same time, it sort of fetishizes the library (and makes money for the creators) without really passing on any of that whuffie to the library itself (especially in New York with its sets of beleaguered library systems). I have similar feelings about the Little Free Libraries. I like them. They are a fun and neat idea for people to get other people interested in reading and the community-building power of books. I am all for both of those things. But because they are called libraries, people look to me and my library worker friends and say “Hey what do you think? Do you wish you’d thought of this?” and my response, which I try to keep from sounding crabby, is that I love these things but I’m not sure why they call them libraries instead of, you know, community bookshelves which is actually what they are.
Except I know why. Because the word library is evocative of a whole bunch of things, from now stretching deep into the past. It has gravitas and comes with a bunch of associations that you can sort of get for free by linking your thing to libraries. Except libraries aren’t free. And the work that goes into keeping them running (which is a lot more than keeping a bookshelf stocked) is complicated, sometimes thankless and under attack from people who think somehow that libraries are not fashionable enough, not hip or current enough, that our day has passed. So please feel free to quit sending me this iphone case, as much as I love it, and think about why New York loves this sort of thing and is trying to sell off their library real estate in New York City and gut the stacks.