Archives for category: web tools

The Globe and Mail had an article yesterday about the Canadian Federal Government upgrading the “Working in Canada” website to “let Canadians know what jobs will be required in the long term so students who are planning their education can look ahead and plan their careers.”

The good database-friendly librarian that I am, I went to take it for a test spin using an obvious keyword. Here is the result for “librarian“:

Librarians (NOC 5111-A)

Librarians select, develop, organize and maintain library collections and provide advisory services for users. They are employed in libraries or in a department within a library.
Included job titles: bibliographer, cataloguer – library, cybrarian, librarian, library consultant, library

There is related result for library managers, too. It is possible to think that this description is a little lacking. To be fair the description of essential skills is not too bad, but it’s a little sterile in my opinion. As a Data-fixer, the closest (non-librarian) job description is Database Analysts and Data Administrators. Right now, I’d say I’m somewhere between librarian and that.

This has me thinking about how I describe what I do to people I meet and potential employees.

What librarians do is important and relevant, but there is a sense that the name is still left in the dusty book shelves of old preconceptions. And, the job description the Feds are using  doesn’t look like it’ll help break down those stereotypes. Moreover, for people looking to sell themselves to employers or for employers looking to find people that can do what LIS people do, it’s really not that helpful.

There is something to the “Librarian” brand that we can and do capitalize on. I’ve watched the on-going  dialogue about the librarian term and new terms that are creeping into our job titles. I am totally fine with this.

If you think about it, I could just as well be a “Database Analyst”, but I prefer “Librarian.” This is perhaps because it signifies something greater, perhaps a commitment to values or a connection to a tradition of practice. Other job titles just don’t seem to carry the same weight.

The database I work with was down for a bit this morning, so I had little bit of time to peruse the ALA’s new Confronting the Future: Strategic Visions for the 21st Century Public Library.

I am intrigued by their notion of the Four Dimensions (see the illustration above).  Besides being awesomely impossible to graph on a  2D chart, it’s a decent representation of the winds driving library evolution right now.

It’s also about strategic decision making. There is a certain amount of push-and-pull embedded in the 4D concept. A move on one spectrum will impact a library’s a place on one of the others.  Can a “Creation” driven library also function well with an “Archive” and “Individual” focus?

The suggestion being:  public libraries must choose what they want to be good at, since they cannot be good at everything. Read the rest of this entry »

We tend to see social media companies as perpetually growing, people getting machines. But, this isn’t really case. In actuality they’re something a little more tidal. For instance, in Canada there seems to be a plateau for Facebook users.

From the Toronto Star

The head of Facebook Canada believes there’s still plenty of room for the social networking giant to grow north of the border, but some new numbers suggest that may not be the case.

A report from Inside Facebook, which tracks usage and trends on Facebook, suggests the website is nearing another big user milestone, and is just 13 million users shy of hitting 700 million monthly active users.

But the report also says it’s growth outside of North America that’s fuelling the latest surge of Facebook use.

The number of Canadians using Facebook has recently dropped by about 1.52 million to 16.6 million, according to Inside Facebook.

The number of active Canadian Facebook users has fluctuated in the 16- to 18-million range over the past year, the report notes.

Canada’s numbers reflect a global trend suggesting that the number of Facebook users in a country seems to plateau when 50 per cent of the population is signed up.[source]

Despite Facebook’s perceived ubiquity, it seems like achieving a 100% user rate has to be damned near impossible. Google has come pretty close, but that’s after years of marketing and carving out its turf among a smaller batch of competitors.

There is some thought that social media is primed to peak over the next few years – there is a finite number of users after all. And, there is a lot of competition from  rising stars, fading giants, and other stable fiefdoms. If Canada’s Facebook plateau is an indicator, after meteoric growth, sowing up a market is going to be a tough slog for companies seeking universal power over our free time.

Bloomberg Businessweek published an article last week on a rarely talked about bubble in the tech industry – and social media giants are to blame.

As I understand it, it boils down to this: the current high tech focus is on using data to improve ad revenue via social media.  Or as Jeff Hammerbacher (a former Facebook research scientist) says, “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks.”

It sucks because the innovation process of massive social media companies focuses on ads, and so there has been only minimal transferable benefit for other industries that don’t make their money off of marketing. This is bad because transferable innovation  makes for good economic growth and stability.

Here’s where Jeff Hammerbacher comes in. He’s developing software that will allow scientific researchers and other business sectors to apply the marco-level data management tools Google, Facebook and Amazon use to target ads. Read the rest of this entry »

The anti-DRM site Defective by Design has declared Wednesday  May 4, 2011 as the third annual International Day Against DRM.

The Day Against DRM is an opportunity to unite a wide range of projects, public interest organizations, web sites and individuals in an effort to raise public awareness to the danger of technology that requires users to give-up control of their computers or that restricts access to digital data and media. This year, we’ll be helping individuals and groups work together to create local actions in their communities — actions will range from protesting an unfriendly hardware vendor to handing out informative fliers at local public libraries! wants to help you plan or get involved in local actions and then broadcast your stories globally. If you are interested in taking part in this year’s Day Against DRM:

It’s definitely something worth participating in, or at least looking into.

Defective by Design’s crew and libraries have shared the struggle before. As DbD says in that post,

Readers, librarians, and authors need to make their voices heard. DRM leaves readers and librarians helpless and divided. If we do not ban DRM from our libraries and our lives then we can and should expect publishers such as Harper Collins to strangle libraries so as to gain as much of a profit as possible.

We need to watch out for each other and make sure that people are not getting suckered into notions of “fair” DRM.

There’s no better way to do this than through collective action:  sign up, read up, and/or act up.

In February, the Globe and Mail ran an article proclaiming the pending demise of eBook piracy. The nails in the coffin were eBook lending sites like Lendle. It took just over a month from that article for to put the breaks on that.

Now, Amazon’s lending restrictions on Lendle basically make lending eBooks an activity for speed readers who prefer random, unpopular books. I suppose in light of those events, eBook piracy will live a little longer. Especially if borrowing eBooks and eAudiobooks  legitimately continues to be unfriendly to users.

My personal experience with OverDrive (the unchallenged content software for eBook excited libraries) via the Ottawa Public Library hasn’t made me (and a lot of other people) optimistic . To download to an audiobook, it required so much hoop jumping and the installation of  software that I gave up. eBooks work a little easier, but it’s still not a smooth process.

Out of curiosity, I found the same audiobook on a popular torrent site in about 30 seconds. It had enough people actively sharing the file that it could have probably downloaded in a few hours. After which, were I so inclined, I’d have unlimited use of the audio files for as long as I wanted and on any platform I wanted.

I imagine the process on a Kindle or Kobo or whatever must be strikingly easier than using OverDrive. Publishers have a clear interest in making lending more difficult for libraries or collaboration minded groups of  individuals. The Globe article had a fairly telling quote on that matter:

Not all publishers are assured [about eBook lending sites, including libraries/OverDrive], including Macmillan U.S., whose president Brian Napack recently defended his company’s go-slow policy at a conference in New York. “The fear is I get one library card and never have to buy a book again,” he said.

If you want to make money, sharing (legal or otherwise) is the worst possible business model. So of course publishers want a few roadblocks.

But, those roadblocks essentially treat would-be borrowers as would-be pirates.  The outcome for users being one of three things, paying for the eBook, putting up with  second class free service/access at dwindling levels of quality, or pursuing less “legitimate” means of access. (I guess you could use a mix of these three.)

If past experience with the music industry has shown anything, it’s that increasingly draconian attitudes do not translate into sales. It seems to me, that those who pay for eBook access were going to pay anyways. Everyone else? Well, there are three choices.

An interesting post from Aaron Schmidt at Walking Paper on the merits of simplified library web sites.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, a daring pilot and talented author, also weighed in on user experience:

“In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.”

In some ways, libraries have been taking the opposite approach. We’ve gotten in the habit of tacking on new services and taking on new responsibilities, and many library websites can be seen as piecemeal collections of patron engagement tactics…

There are two ways to increase the amount of attention the bits of a website receive: either by increasing staffing and funding, or reducing the number of bits. An extreme example: imagine if your web team was only responsible for the page consisting of your library’s contact information, location, and one book recommendation per week. They’d be able to spend plenty of time on this page, testing, experimenting, and revising regularly. It would be a great page.

For years, I’ve heard talk about libraries cutting the cord on irrelevant services. Yet I haven’t heard as much discussion about which sacred web cows we can put out to pasture. This might in part be owing to the perception that a 200-page website isn’t more expensive to manage than a 50-page one. While probably true in terms of hosting fees, it isn’t otherwise true. Good content takes staff time to produce and arrange, and the navigational overhead can be a time expenditure for users.

I’m not suggesting that libraries shouldn’t try new things or add content to their sites. They should. Still, the library world needs to start a dialog about an additional way to prevent stagnation: subtraction.[read the full post]

People following this blog know my affection for minimalism as a creative conceit. Apart from aesthetics, I really believe there’s merit to simplifying library online experiences (something I’ve argued for in the past).

Schmidt takes aim at the current library web-design ethos of trying to stake as much online territory as possible. But, enthusiasm and ambition can be a downfall. There are many library landing pages with so many content and navigation options that it’s difficult to really find specific things. Read the rest of this entry »

by Kaetlyn Wilcox (pic links to her blog)

The Library Journal recently posted a run-down of how libraries have responded to Harper Collins’ eBook policy. Here’s one example:

The Kansas State Library decided this month to suspend adding any HarperCollins ebooks to the statewide consortium platform, which services 330 public libraries in the state.

“We are not trying to punish HarperCollins,” Jo Buder, the state librarian, told LJ. “We are just trying to figure out a way to provide these titles without damaging customer service. What do we do for a person who is 27th in line and has a hold? What does it mean to catalogers? It’s just all very bad customer service decisions,” she said.

Buder is now heading a task force that has been formed by the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA) that is debating a response to HarperCollins. The task force teleconferenced on March 9 with representatives from Georgia, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Alaska, Colorado, Ohio, Texas, and Tennessee participating.

“We decided that we really want to approach publishers [directly], HarperCollins in particular, because we want to understand the issues more,” Buder said. “The interest is really so high.”[read the full article]

It’s always impressive to see so many libraries taking a concerted stand.

Looking down the road, what will a solution look like? An article in the Atlantic puzzles on this, and points to the approach taken by the NYPL and OverDrive:

Potash, whose Cleveland-based company has thrived in the often contentious atmosphere of dynamic change, believes that the solution is to recognize that even the demand for most bestsellers eventually settles down, and the number of e-books that libraries would have to re-purchase will turn out to be relatively small in the broader scheme of activity. OverDrive’s largest customer, the New York Public Library, is floating an intriguing concept: a form of metering. Once purchased, a book would be available for an extended period, and thereafter a small charge would accrue for further loans. For example, the New York system now has 125 copies of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but in three years it may only need a handful, and the revenue impact of pay-per-use could turn out to be small. Moreover, “dog-eared printed books” as one senior librarian explained to me, have always been replaced, and e-books significantly reduce the time, trouble, and expense of returning books back onto shelves.[read the full article]

The pay-per-use model has cropped up in other ideas for a compromised solution. Like a variable rate mortgage, it’s entirely possible that a pay-per-use model could save money in the long run. It could also end up costing more. It’s difficult to say, and it’ll be important to watch how libraries that adopt the model fair.

Pay-per-use may not be the most ideal solution. But in some form, it might be the best deal libraries will get, since publishers have the content, our users want access, and libraries who don’t have it will be left by the wayside.

If some libraries feel over a barrel, it’s because they are.

From Scott McCloud's book Understanding Comics (1994)

Recently, I came across a post from the Libraries and Transliteracy blog on a neat collaboration called You Media.

YouMedia, for those of you who don’t know, is an experiment between the Chicago Public LibraryDepaul University, and the Digital Youth Network

The YouMedia experiment is a 21st century teen learning space.  It is really a digital media lab.  But it is so much more.  The YouMedia folks recognize that technology alone will not save us.  The success of this experiment lies in the team that YouMedia has built.  Not only do the kids who use the space have access to librarians and library staff, but they also have access to mentors and instructors.  The mentors and instructors have expertise in the tools, in tapping into creativity, or in just listening to the kids.  They all have the goal of helping these patrons find their voices.  It is in these people that the success of YouMedia is built.

… YouMedia recently witnessed a major milestone.  While the research findings on the success or the failure of the experiment will take years to construct, the kids recently began providing solid anecdotal evidence pointing towards success.  One example of that evidence is the recent results of the Louder than a Bomb Youth Poetry Festival.  The winner of the contest was a young man who represents a YouMedia team of teens, and he even gives them credit.[full post]

For those who’re not familiar with the concept, Transliteracy is essentially the idea that literacy is not limited to simply being able to read print texts. It takes, the notion goes, a complex set of interacting literacies to be able to interpret and communicate what we experience, be it by book, movie, YouTube, bus rides, whatever.

Take for example the excerpt from Understanding Comics, above. Reading a comic book involves traditional text literacy, visual literacy (knowing the way comic strips work or what an abstracted human for is), and spacial literacy (understanding movement and action), and more (i.e. you need to sort of generally understand what a Transformers toy is to get what’s happening – Transformers literacy?).

Because of its multi-faceted approach, Transliteracy is an important concept for exploring how pedagogy and communication will evolve. Projects like YouMedia take this and apply it to make a learning and creative environment that combines traditional print books with new multi-media tools. This sort of mixed-media space is well suited for libraries because they are fast becoming mixed-media spaces anyways.

Libraries have already committed to the importance of core literacies (i.e. reading and being able to use a computer). This has never been more relevant. But, if libraries are poised to take this another step. Ideas like Transliteracy will be useful for building bridges beyond simply reading a book or using a computer.

Another entry in the Library Minimalism category: Virtual Reference.

Though, I suppose if an actual poster looked this rough and was hanging in your library, you’d want to replace it. Or, more likely you’d want watch out for wandering hordes of mutants.

I swear I’ll get back to regular posts soon, but these minimalist pictures are just so much darn fun.