Wednesday, August 29, 2007

socializing is fundamental

When I was in library school, I read The Social Life of Documents (published in the first issue of first monday, May 1996) and it changed me.

[from the introduction]: Seeing documents as the means to make and maintain social groups, not just the means to deliver information, makes it easier to understand the utility and success of new forms of document. This social understanding of documents should better explain the evolution of Web as a social and commercial phenomenon.

I started to think about librarians (as people) and libraries (as institutions) not only as archivists, collectors, organizers, retrievers, and deliverers of information, but also as facilitators of social engagement; building capacity in individuals (not just knowledge) and building communities (local and otherwise) through connection between those individuals.

My colleague Andy Havens recently reminded me where it had all started for me when he pointed out some very interesting historical data on library circ numbers (his words), recently published (in Book Circulation Per U.S. Public Library User Since 1856) by Douglas Galbai, a senior economist at the FCC. Mr Galbai's research indicates that "historically established institutions (libraries) significantly stabilize borrowing behavior." But why?

[from the conclusion]: Borrowing books from public libraries is well-connected to a variety of institutions and values. Much of the pleasure from reading may be derived from discussing a book with friends who have also read the book. The desire to discuss books among friends may constrain the rate at which individuals will read books. At the same time, persons may value going to the library as an activity in itself. Borrowing library items may be in part a by-product of interest in those visits.

Coincidentally, our upcoming survey investigating privacy and information sharing on the web indicates that people who engage in social networking actually read more than those who do not. Really? Coincidence?

Could it be, asked Mr. Havens, that social networking could be one reason that people read more? When I have people with whom I have enjoyable book and reading discussions, would I tend to read more?

Ya think??

More than a decade has passed since the publication of The Social Life of Documents. But discussions around the social nature of our work seems to only recently be getting recognition in the professional library discourse. Sometimes I'm encouraged and engaged by the conversation. Sometimes I think to myself: why are we disconnected from this history? And why is this taking so long?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


For months, I've been suggesting that libraries adopt the Netflix model to get rid of their overdue fines: library customers can keep out a certain number of books or other materials for as long as they want, no fines required. If you want another item when you are at the limit, return something. The library could recall the book when it's needed by someone else.

Instead of a library offering this service, welcome to BookSwim, "the Online Book Rental Library Club Netflix-style," to quote their banner. For about $24 a month, you can have up to five books on loan from the club for as long as you want.

How many libraries get $288 per capita annual support? As the person who pointed me to this site noted, "Like a library. But less free. Possibly more convenient..." Time is the new currency, even in this topsy-turvy economy. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Sweet Smell of eBooks

At least, if you get them from CafeScribe.

Apparently they plan to issue scratch-n-sniff stickers with their eBooks?
Read all about it in Wired Campus.

Also in today's NYT. If you think library fund-raising is bad, at least we're not cleaning bleachers. (At least, I hope you're not having to clean bleachers to keep the doors open!)

And good news for Jackson Conty, OR: looks like the may get to re-open after all. With shorter hours and less qualified staff. Hmm. What I didn't realize, was that Jackson County would be joining a group of libraries already under management by LSSI:

  • Arlington, TN
  • Bee Cave, TX
  • Calabasas, CA
  • Chatham College, PA
  • Collierville, TN
  • Fargo, ND
  • Finney County, KS
  • Germantown, TN
  • Hemet, CA
  • Jackson, TN
  • Lancaster, TX
  • Leander, TX
  • Linden, NJ
  • Malcolm Pirnie, Inc., NY
  • Millington, TN
  • Montgomery College, MD
  • Moorpark, CA
  • Red Oak, TX
  • Redding, CA
  • Riverside County, CA
  • San Juan, TX
Anyone from these places want to comment on your experience?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Greetings from South Africa!

This week, I am attending the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions World Library and Information Council meeting in Durban, South Africa. This is the premier annual gathering of librarians with an interest developing the international library community. More than 3,000 people are registered, and there are about 100 exhibitors.

Sunday morning, the opening session was nothing short of amazing --- an exciting amalgam of music, dance, video and two outstanding speakers. Dr. Z. Pallo Jordan, South Africa's Minister of Arts and Culture, spoke on the growth of education and libraries in the country since democratization in 1994. Dr. Jordan is an intellectual and writer, who served the ANC in exile during the 1960s and 1970s. Justice Albie Sachs, of the Constitutional Court (roughly equivalent to the US Supreme Court), spoke movingly about how books helped keep him emotionally whole during his solitary incarceration in the 1960s for fighting apartheid. He also lost an arm and an eye in an assassination attempt.

It occurred to me as I listened to these men that South Africa is in a unique position: its George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Sam Adams, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass are all still alive. The men and women who moved South Africa from its racist roots to a progressive democracy are still here and active, in many cases. (South Africa is the only place in the world where two Nobel Peace Prize winners live on the same street.)

It will be libraries and archives and museums that will preserve their memories, their artifacts, and ensure their impact on the future. I've never been quite so sure of the importance of the library mission as I am on this trip.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Books on your iPhone

I don't have an iPhone yet, although it's way cool they want to hear from me about it if I did have one. I would love to have one, but so far the price is too high for my budget.

I'm sure there will be library users in your area--yes, even your small, rural public library--who have them and are intensely devoted to them.

Here's another reason to love them: now the phones enable eBook excerpt-browsing. Called HarperCollins Browse Inside, you'll be able to see it at the Frankfurt Book Fair Oct. 10-14.

In the meantime, it might be worth checking out the LibreDigital Web site to check titles and see if you have the full title available--whether in e or p form.

Related note: I did see, in the July/Aug 07 print issue of Information Today, that eBooks are making a comeback. New technology like the iPhone and Sony's Reader is credited with some of the renaissance...of course, libraries have been there, all along!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Libraries are Getting Cool Points

It's not just my rose-colored glasses. Libraries and librarians have been getting GREAT press lately, in terms of shifting the general public's perceptions of us being irrelevant, old, dusty, bun-wearing, shushing places or people. Name your stereotype and the mainstream press is starting to help shift things. See my latest case in point (thanks , Eric) from the San Francisco Chronicle, "San Francisco libraries have become neighborhood best-sellers."

And you know the funny thing about it. Whether or not it is *actually* true in your particular library, you can start living it like it's true (not that you haven't been already, for years) and it can become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Hope you are having your own "running of the bulls" each morning as you open the doors of your public library. You academic librarians, enjoy the back-to-school bustle that's starting up!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

My Hero!

Chuck Harmon finished the Underground Railroad Bicycle Trail ride last weekend, and he has written a series of blog entries about it. I really admire Chuck for his determination in completing the ride, as well as for his work in planning the Ohio section of the route.

He also had the inspiration of tying public libraries into the trail, so you have to love the guy!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Crazy Guy on a Bike

Several months ago, Chuck Harmon got me interested in the Underground Railroad Bicycle Route, a bicycle route that runs from Mobile, Alabama, to Owen Sound, Ontario, following one route used by escaping slaves to find freedom in Canada. Chuck, a colleague at OCLC, is an avid cyclist and he laid out the Ohio section of the route. He is also an avid library user.

Chuck and I fleshed out ways public libraries could be involved in the route as "conductors," helping individual riders with a place to get out of the weather, find information about the area through which they were traveling, maybe even check their e-mail or read the day's newspaper. He and I started a message board on WebJunction about the route. One excellent entry from this site traces how the Erie County (Pennsylvania) public library has incorporated the route into their outreach.

Now, Chuck is on a one-week ride of the final lap of the route, from my old hometown of Buffalo, New York, to Owen Sound. His journal is on a site for cyclists called "Crazy Guy on a Bike," and he's doing a wonderful job talking about the ride. (Full disclosure: Chuck invited me to ride along, but my schedule at work has prevented me from getting away. Besides, I am bone idle.)

The route is a collaborative effort of Adventure Cycling Association, The Center for Minority Health, Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh, the National Park Service's Network to Freedom, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and WebJunction.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Is listening to a book cheating?

The New York Times seems to be on a tear with articles of interest to librarians recently. Today's entry, "Your Cheatin' Listenin' Ways," focuses on the controversy in some book clubs over listening to audiobooks as opposed to reading the text.

Before I go any further, full disclosure: NetLibrary, an OCLC division, currently markets Recorded Books products to libraries.

That being said, I am an unabashed fan of audiobooks. I was an audiobooks reviewer for AudioFile and Booklist for many years (until OCLC, NetLibrary and Recorded Books got together), and I find them to be a wonderful way to find new material, gain new insights on the written word, and hear wonderful performances by terrific voice artists and actors. Hearing Frank Muller read Pat Conroy, or Jim Dale read JK Rowling, or Barbara Rosenblat read anything this side of a grocery list, is a transcendent experience.

But stay away from the abridged books, OK? Even a pragmatist like me has to draw the line somewhere!