Archives for posts with tag: Change

Canada’s 41st election started out sort of dull and predictable (c.f. the lack-lustre debates). But, the recent news about the NDP’s surge has made things pretty darn interesting. I’ve been glued to the polls and news reports.  (This is my way of saying:  I’m too distracted to keep up the pace I set on this site, right now. Regular posts will resume next week.)

I’ve been looking around for ways Canadian libraries have supported voter engagement and turnout. Libraries across the country have put up information tables, dug out history and contemporary politics books for displays,  and posted information and links online.

Is there more the library community can do than displays and links? What about cultivating the next generation of young voters? Are there election themed story-times out there? Are we engaging new Canadians in their new home’s politics?

The LIS community should be thinking of ways to help create and nurture engaged political communities. They’ll come in handy when libraries need protection from book banners and budget hawks. This will take more than just blog posts and Bristol board displays during election season. But, the results could be huge!

Libraries are political (but not necessarily partisan). History has shown how access to books and information (not to mention community space and communication tools) are powerful political tools. To ignore this is to ignore the important role libraries have had and can have in the direction of our nation and our world.

We have to play a role in shaping the future, if we want to have a role to play in the future.

Canada Votes May 2nd!!!

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CBC’s Reality Check on Platform Promises

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Apathy is Boring

Stephen Harper & cat, Cheddar

I’ll state up front: the Conservative Party is not my favourite, not by a long shot. But in the interest of fairness, I’ll put up their platform points on the internet and copyright:

In spring 2011, the Conservatives will announce and begin implementing a Digital Economy Strategy, focused on the following five priorities:
* Building world-class digital infrastructure;
* Encouraging businesses to adopt digital technologies;
* Supporting digital skills development;
* Fostering the growth of Canadian companies supplying digital technologies to global markets; and
* Creating made-in-Canada content across all platforms, to bring Canada to the world.[source: CLA platform analysis]

This reads pretty much like the other parties. But, given the CPC’s six years in power, you can bet the primary beneficiaries will be large corporations. And, there will be a wanton lack of transparency, accessibility, and probably unrestrained rising costs that tax payers will have to pay (cf. the F-35 fiasco or the pork barrel spending around the G8/G20).

But wait, there’s more: “A Stephen Harper-led majority Government will also reintroduce and
pass the Copyright Modernization Act, a key pillar in our commitment to make Canada a leader in the global digital economy.”[source] That sounds nice. If this is anything like Bill C-32, it will not be a great boon for librarians already pinched by tight DRM rules and licence agreements.

In my opinion,  I can’t imagine a party whose attitude and behaviour are so far removed from those at the core of Librarianship: fairness, access, transparency, generally being nice and helpful, etc. etc.

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Dapper Jack Wants to Broaden the Bands

A week ago or so,  the Canadian Library Association put out a press release detailing the Liberal party’s platform as it relates to Libraryland in Canada.

In the interest of equal time, I have for you what the NDP has to say about the key issues affecting libraries this election.  (I’ll be posting the Greens and the CPC later this week – if I can find an English translation of the BQ platform, I’ll post it too).

5.14 Ensuring all Canadians Have Access to Broadband and a Robust Digital Economy

* We will apply the proceeds from the advanced wireless spectrum auction to ensure all Canadians, no matter where they live, will have quality high-speed broadband internet access;
* We will expect the major internet carriers to contribute financially to this goal;
* We will rescind the 2006 Conservative industry-oriented directive to the CRTC and direct the regulator to stand up for the public interest, not just the major telecommunications companies;
* We will enshrine “net neutrality” in law, end price gouging and “net throttling,” with clear rules for Internet Service Providers (ISPs), enforced by the CRTC;
* We will prohibit all forms of usage-based billing (UBB) by Internet Service Providers (ISPs);
* We will introduce a bill on copyright reform to ensure that Canada complies with its international treaty obligations, while balancing consumers’ and creators’ rights.[source]

Not bad, though a little vague on copyright.

Aside from the overall “hard on corporations” tone the NDP likes, I don’t see how this platform is substantially different than the Liberals.

Maybe the tone is the difference. Some issues the Libs touch on in their platform, like Open Government, aren’t in the NDP’s because I’m pretty sure they are part of the general way the NDP would run the show if they won.

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Apathy is Boring

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 »

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 »

the atwood machine at work

the Atwood Machine at work

Margret Atwood on the phenomenon of eBooks (via the Globe and Mail):

Every time there is a new medium, people get hypnotized by it: the printing press, radio, television, the Internet. It’s certainly a change in the world, which then somehow adapts. A whole section of society was very upset when zippers came in because they made it easier to seduce people in automobiles. You know, I think we’ve kind of adjusted to zippers by now. Just because you have a zipper doesn’t mean somebody has to unzip it … But you’re talking about e-books and e-readers and text in electronic form and the reading experience…

Well, it’s the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Everybody moves round a place. So the Book of the Month Club disappears and something else takes its share of the market. And then big publishers get in trouble and cut back, and that creates space for other publishers to acquire books they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to get.[read the whole interview]

It’s a bit of an odd interview. Atwood tries to take on the eBook issue from a writer’s perspective. The interviewer seems bent on getting her to declare eBooks and their kin to be a danger to society. Atwood doesn’t take the bait. Instead, she affirms eBooks as part of an ongoing evolution in communication technology.

I like how she ends the interview, responding to the question “Will the world be worse off if e-books fail?”:

Well, first let us picture what kind of event might lead to that: 1. Solar flares, which melt all the e-communication services. 2. Widespread plague, which is going to kill anyone running the companies that make them. So that being the case, I would say yes! That the world will be considerably worse off if, the next morning, you wake up and nobody’s reading anything on e-readers because the event that will have caused that is horrific!

There are people in the Library world who have adopted a sort of apocalyptic tone vis-a-vis eBooks. The full measure of what is lost and what is gained from technology shifts (c.f. the printing press ruined oral culture, but gave us the modern world, great books, etc. etc.) takes a while to shake down.

Atwood’s approach in this interview is a reminder that we don’t know what the full economic, cultural, and creative potential of the eBook will be. Or, how long that will take to come about.

***more on the Atwood Machine***

Have you heard the news?

Recently, Wired magazine declared the death of the web:

You wake up and check your email on your bedside iPad — that’s one app. During breakfast you browse Facebook, Twitter, and The New York Times — three more apps. On the way to the office, you listen to a podcast on your smartphone. Another app. At work, you scroll through RSS feeds in a reader and have Skype and IM conversations. More apps. At the end of the day, you come home, make dinner while listening to Pandora, play some games on Xbox Live, and watch a movie on Netflix’s streaming service.

You’ve spent the day on the Internet — but not on the Web. And you are not alone.

This is not a trivial distinction. Over the past few years, one of the most important shifts in the digital world has been the move from the wide-open Web to semiclosed platforms that use the Internet for transport but not the browser for display. It’s driven primarily by the rise of the iPhone model of mobile computing, and it’s a world Google can’t crawl, one where HTML doesn’t rule. And it’s the world that consumers are increasingly choosing, not because they’re rejecting the idea of the Web but because these dedicated platforms often just work better or fit better into their lives (the screen comes to them, they don’t have to go to the screen). The fact that it’s easier for companies to make money on these platforms only cements the trend. Producers and consumers agree: The Web is not the culmination of the digital revolution.[full article]

Or in Clue-speak:  it was the User in the Internet with the App.

Declaring things dead doesn’t have the same bombast it used to, and it’s not entirely new news. Web 2.0 has been pushing it’s way into the Internet-user’s life for a few years now, and Wired is talking about the logical extension of that trend.

But, the article makes an important distinction between “browsing” and “getting.” This has to do with the rise apps-based user expectations and an achieved critical mass of online-content. I think browsing was useful in the past because there was no guarantee anything you wanted was out there. Now, Internet-savvy users are  surprised when something is NOT online. So, it’s not about finding, it’s about retrieving.

Libraries should play close attention to this, not because we’re not in the information/content retrieving business. This is what a good library does well, after all.

The issue at stake is competition.

The barriers to entry in the library’s field of online content delivery (eBooks, reference information, audio books, etc.) have been knocked down or scaled by competition that doesn’t share the same value system, operations cost, or even expectations of open access.

Again, this is not new news, just more pressure on libraries to innovate.

Looking for a counter-point? Try What’s Wrong With ‘X Is Dead’, from the Atlantic

A great, educational video via, a web-based rallying cry to stop corporate takeovers of libraries.

Here’s a snippet from a recent blog post:

Last year, Santa Clarita’s City Council rammed through a vote to privatize their library system with very little community input. Community members were understandably outraged, and attended several public hearings requesting more community involvement in the decision-making process. Instead of listening to residents, the City Council created a “Citizen’s Advisory Committee” to review Santa Clarita’s library system and its needs and make recommendations for moving forward with LSSI. The committee had no decision-making power, and was widely criticized as a thinly veiled attempt to silence critics.

Oh, but it gets better. The City Council invited LSSI executive Ron Dubberly to chairor, technically, ‘facilitate’ this committee. In other words, the committee created to advise on the city’s relationship with a private company is being controlled by that same private company. Dubberly has been President of LSSI’s Public Library Management Operations since 2008.[full post]

That’s madness and a little perturbing. Privatisation is not the best idea. There is no guarantee that privatising something will save costs. For example, last year the Ottawa city garbage workers were able to take away the trash at a cost lower than the lowest private-sector bid.

But, I don’t know if I totally agree with the slippery slope they lay out in the video. Used bookstores and cafés are not so onerous. In the case of cafés, there is an opportunity to build a locally focused business with a strong ethical aspects, such as a commitment  fair trade coffee, compostable cups, etc. Also, no one really is against paying for photocopies, a long standing revenue stream used to offset the cost of the photocopying service. Read the rest of this entry »

library closed

From Stephen’s Lighthouse:

The movement to subscription models has some benefits:

1. You’re not locked in forever (or until it wears out) as a purchase can sometimes do.
2. You have the opportunity to offload the ‘keeping up-to-date factor’ on things that need replacing too often at high initial cost (software, servers, devices, etc,) or upgrade with annoying rapidity (like software and phone models).
3. You want to spread your investment out evenly in the annual budget over many years instead of investing in risky decisions that have higher upfront costs and commitments to servers vs browser access.
4. You want to reduce the risk of making a poor decision and committing to one choice that may be overtaken by innovation, trends, competition, time and events.
5. Access to bigger collections at less cost per user annually (like with the periodical experience)
6. Aggregated relationships with book publishers as has happened with periodical article access and standardization of e-formats and metadata and OpenURL compliance, etc.
7. Bulk influence on copyright and licensing of larger assemblages of content (a la Tasini, etc.)
8. Etc.[full blog post]

The last “etc.” could stand for the benefit of being subject to easily changed (by the vendor) terms of use of agreements (c.f. my earlier post on the HarperCollins kerfuffle, a kerfuffle, it should be observed, that could include a great many other vendors).

In fact, though thoroughly optimistic, Abrams’ list is also very one-sided. It’s not hard to imagine why – he is the VP Strategic Partnerships and Markets for Gale Cengage.  EBook sales are his business.  Read the rest of this entry »

From LISNews: Librarian News:

Library users, librarians, and libraries have begun to boycott publisher HarperCollins over changes to the terms of service that would limit the ability of library users to borrow ebooks from libraries. A new website,, is helping to organize their efforts to get HarperCollins to return to the previous terms of service.

On February 24, Steve Potash, the Chief Executive Officer of OverDrive, sent an email to the company’s customers — primarily US libraries — announcing that some of the ebooks they get from OverDrive would be disabled after they had circulated 26 times. Soon after, librarians learned that it was HarperCollins, a subsidiary of News Corporation (NWSA), that intended to impose these limits.
Immediately, library users, librarians, and libraries began voicing their opposition to the plan by HarperCollins, with several library users and librarians urging a boycott.[full article]

26 times? I think the days of touting the freedom and ease of access of eBooks via libraries are coming to a middle. The recent excitement over rising eBook usage glosses over the implications of events like Kindle’s Orwellian muck-up a year or so ago.

A face-off with a vendor has been brewing for a while, and more are sure to follow.

EBook providers are going to switch to increasingly intransigent and limiting terms because they sense threats to their profits from other directions, such as piracy. Frustratingly, HarperCollins’ policy and others like it will slowly throttle a library’s ability to supply eBooks conveniently (for the user and the library) and affordably (for the library).

If eReaders continue to boom, and they likely will, people could choose to absorb the cost of eBooks themselves for the sake of quick access. This is unfortunately probable, since people who can afford an eReader of any sort can likely afford the cost of compatible books (related demographic info).

The outcome could be rough. Libraries will eventually loose any iniative  they’ve gained on this front and could be pushed out as an eBook access point. And, as new technology eventually surpasses print, public libraries could end up standing on a fairly bleak precipice.

Enough, doom saying. The collective weight of librarians, library users, and other supporters could roll this trend back. Visit and get involved.