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The Final Post (a change of blogs) June 7, 2011

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This is the long overdue final post for this blog.  There are several reasons why I have decided to discontinue writing here.  For one, and most importantly, there is already a blog called Adventures In Librarianship which I did not realize until after I had already started posting on here.  I’m sorry for stepping on this other blogger’s toes.  I was just in too much of a hurry to start writing and build up a reservoir of content.

The other reason though is that this blog is too much of a random, catchall type of an affair.  It lacks structure and fades too easily into the Internet ether.  Once I had finished grad school, I really took some time (a lot of time) to think of what type of niche still remained unfilled within the library world.

After considerable time and thought, I have decided to follow Dr. Ken Haycock’s advice to celebrate the success of others and have created a new blog under the name Good News Librarian which will focus on all the good that libraries are doing.  Hopefully, it will be a place where libraries and librarians can feel appreciated for there efforts, where librarians can learn about the good work happening around the world that they may not have heard of, and also to be an advocacy piece showcasing everything that libraries do in addition to just being a storehouse for books (a shockingly still popular misconception)

I hope you’ll join me over at GNL and send along any successes that you have or hear about.

U.S. Public Libraries Using Open Source CMS July 20, 2010

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U.S. Public Libraries Using Open Source CMS

As part of my dissertation, I have made a Google Map charting the U.S. public libraries using open source CMS which can be accessed here: http://bit.ly/aIInGv.

It is interesting to see the large accumulation in the Midwest.  I wonder if the presence of OCLC and ALA play a part into why there are so many libraries using CMS-powered websites in that part of the country.

If anyone knows of any libraries that I missed please let me know.  If you work for a library that is currently running a CMS-powered website, please take my survey which can be found here: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/5VX7F8Q.  Details on how the data will be handled is available here: http://notepad.cc/share/rkeH3HBhOz

For those of you that have already contributed to my project, let me say thank you.  I have received some really thoughtful responses to my survey which will really help me put together an informative and original final project.

Novi (MI) opens new public library June 24, 2010

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Novi Public Library
First, I apologize for having only this poor-quality picture.  If anyone from Novi Public Library reads this, I would happy to come take some more pictures.  However, for now I want to just write about this library which just recently opened amid so many library closures and budget cuts.

It is a really well designed library.  Almost the entire first floor is dedicated to children.  There is a lot of soft seating for kids, child-friendly computer, and a bank of rooms along an entire wall that allow for tutoring.

Upstairs, there are another set of study/meeting rooms which vary in size.  There is also an accessibility room for those with special needs.  There are a number of computer clusters in addition to a computer lab.  One of my favorite parts of the new library is a dedicated teen zone which includes a video game station.  I feel that gaming is a great opportunity that is still too often neglected by libraries.  The upstairs also includes a local history room.

Other features of the library include a cafe downstairs, self check-out stations, and a self-service holds pickup.  One other really great idea is pre-assembled book club bags with a number of copies of a given book and discussion suggestions.

The library was really well used when I visited.  It benefits by being situated right next to the high school and I noticed a lot of use by students.  It also has a park on the other side for reading outdoors.  There are a number of options for reading in the library from semi-enclosed soft seating to more traditional long wooden tables.  With all the library offers, there was also a good stock selection and I was able to find three Drupal books and a number of Joomla books as well none of which were available at the library in my area.

What I feel that this library does so well is offer such a wide range of opportunities for its users.  It is a really good example of providing a community hub which is a role that libraries are increasingly being asked to fill.  The space is well delineated and I feel really provides enough options to meet the needs of all users.

I feel that this library will be successful and it will be important to watch its success.  They did receive a large pool of funding but if the service is well-used in the community it will be clear to see that it is a good use of tax money.  With libraries facing a lot of pressure to prove their worth during this time of decreasing government budgets, I feel that Novi will be an important case study.  If libraries can point to this example as a way of saying that with proper funding the public library can be repurposed to meet the changing needs of users than maybe libraries can begin to win the budget wars and continue to provide a much-needed and valuable service to their users.

On Promoting the Reading of Good Books April 26, 2010

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Semester is winding up.  So this blog is most likely going to undergo a period of neglect while I attend to the pile of imminently due coursework that can be ignored no longer.  The one good thing about coursework though is that when I actually do stop procrastinating and get started, it has some really enjoyable moments.  For example, I’m currently writing an essay on constructivist education theory and it includes reading actual books as opposed to a bevy of articles as is usually required.  It has been such a long while since I have been able to actually read good books and I wish deadlines were not looming as ominously as they are because I would really like to dive deeper into the subject and the great thing about good books is that they are built on top of good books and lead to further good books and it is the type of thing one can get easily lost in.

When I first decided to transition into librarianship, my hope was that I could get communities re-energized about the opportunities available at their local library and that I could help to steer people towards good books.  As a quick disclaimer, I am not one for eliminating popular fiction and only offering books widely deemed as high-quality.  I believe that all manner of reading material have their place but I also know how good it feels to really start to unpack a carefully constructed work.

I did not start life as someone who really enjoyed reading and even now I feel that I read much slower than other people but I have really come to value how important the mere act of reading good books is and I have also become a firm believer that anyone can do it.  I would say the primary catalyst for my belief in the positive effects of reading good books and the reason this remains one of my top priorities stems from a class I had at the tail-end of an otherwise underwhelming undergraduate program.  The class was taught by Dr. Corey Anton, who like me discovered reading later in life through the intervention of an inspirational teacher.  He wrote an article that to me is an instant classic and I refer to it often.  Even though so much is changing in the library world there are some values that I believe need to endure all transitions.  Providing a space for others to experience the power of really understanding a good book is one of them.

While I am sure that no one that reads this would argue against reading good books personally, it can sometimes be hard to build up a case for why it is important for others.  One the other hand, maybe you already have a list of reasons you use to encourage library readers to challenge themselves.  Whether you are a believer or a skeptic, well-prepared or in need of rationale, this article is for you.

As Dr. Anton would always stress at the end of every class: if you have finished the reading, re-read it.  I would say the same about this article.  Enjoy this one over and over.  It really is an article that keeps on giving and as such it is an appropriate placeholder while I put my own writing on hold until semester’s end.

Just Do It Part III: How learning a new skill may help offset funding cuts April 13, 2010

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Funding for libraries is increasingly in jeopardy with SaveLibraries reporting that Colorado, Ohio, and New Jersey are especially feeling the pinch at the moment.  It is a tragedy that a service as valuable as the public library is facing funding threats that seek to strip away such a core asset from so many communities.  I am in no way making the claim that these funding cuts can be completely or even substantially compensated for by following any ideas listed below but I do feel that there are somethings that will save money and provide a better service and I think in times like these maybe every little bit helps…

Meredith Farkas just gave a presentation at CIL2010 where she has rightly stated that all too often when it comes to tech projects, they are given as add-on projects, heaped onto an already overworked member of staff who receives no reward for their extra time and labor.  I agree.  Libraries ideally should invest in emerging technology librarians or some similar position.  However, right now with budget cuts threatening jobs if a move to open source can free up enough for a salary or too it may be worth the thankless hours of extra work.

In a previous blog I mentioned Koha, which I stand by as an open source catalog that rivals or outperforms a number of proprietary systems.  A move to Koha could save a library money.  However, here I also really want to focus on open source content management systems.  In particular, there has been a lot of attention paid to Drupal lately and I think for good reason.

The first bit to note about Drupal is that it is supported by DreamHost which offers free web hosting for non-profits so this could save libraries in two web-related areas.  The next bit to note is that the SOPAC project is proving that your CMS can actually replace an OPAC.  As a free solution with a large and active developer community and a wide range of modules (including library-specific modules) for customization the question really becomes why aren’t more (or all) libraries moving over to Drupal.

To find an answer one needs to look no further than a lecture that I had to today where a couple of lecturers tried to show five different options for CMS implementation and also tried to examine the disadvantages of the open source option.  Now, I don’t think open source is for everyone but I think New York Public Library proved that open source is for every library.

The disadvantages that these lecturers found were:

1. Open source is not as stable as proprietary:  When will this myth die.  Drupal has been around since 2001, WordPress since 2003, and Joomla since 2005.  They are only getting better and more popular.  These systems are not going anywhere.

2. Open source does not have as many features as proprietary: Drupal has a sea of modules.  As mentioned before, some are specifically for libraries.  The lecturers mentioned link management and application integration as two areas were open source doesn’t compete with proprietary but as can be seen in the last link they do on the library page and even more in the list of general modules.

3. They claim that open source solutions are only for small projects that are one server based.  First, for most libraries a one server solution is probably adequate but once again I didn’t have to look far to find that Drupal can be installed across multiple servers.  In terms of large projects, NYPL has 50,000 nodes.  I can’t imagine most libraries needing even a tenth of that many.  In sum, open source can handle big projects.

What is the reason?  What other reason could there be to not make the move?  Sadly, I think it is just librarians unwilling to be innovative and to take on a new skill like PHP.  However, without open source projects like Drupal I think libraries will never be able to customize the service that they deliver to users and will never be able to keep up with trends.  It has become easier than ever to start and modify a Drupal site and with a little training staff can not only contribute content but can work on code to enhance the system.  Any problems that cannot be solved can be outsourced to the Drupal community and I think that one would be hard pressed to spend more on the occasional call to a Drupal developer than even the standard annual fee for customer service on most proprietary systems.

However, this last bit seems to be the other cog in the wheel.  Managers seem to want someone they can call who will be accountable.  Staff may be unwilling to put their own neck on the line.  It can be easier to just know that if anything goes wrong there is somewhere to pass the buck.

It seems somehow equally tragic though that this budget crisis could be mitigated, if even in a small way, and a better service could be offered but the road blocks are old paradigms and an unwillingness to learn a new skill.  One of the major calls for libraries is too be places for informal learning opportunities and it seems we are having a hard time using them that way ourselves.  The information required to make critical system changes that respond to user needs is all out there; and that’s what we do we find information.  In fact, a book on the subject may even be in your local library…. that is if it’s still there.

Just Do It: Part II April 13, 2010

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Yesterday I made a post about the response to the latest DCMS report.  I think I need a quick postscript/follow-up post to say that I undersand that a lot of libraries are already moving on the action items listed in the report.  In fact, the report states that almost all libraries already offer free internet, access to social networks, and membership from birth. 

So, when I say that libraries need to just move on these ideas, I guess what I really mean to say is that the complaint of the document shouldn’t be that it is too vague and “has no teeth”, the complaint should be that out-of-touch, broad view government oversight is unneccesary and libraries are already working to change their service and meet new user needs. 

I think what I mean to say is that the critics are mostly write and the DCMS document does not effectively layout anything new to say what libraries are doing currently and what is working and where they are headed.  However, I think where I get confused is that sometimes it seems like there is an over reliance on government agencies to do all teh strategic thinking.  Most people who work in libraries have Master’s degrees.  That education isn’t to train individuals to run day-to-day operational tasks it is to train them to think strategically and make plans.

I think if DCMS is criticised in this way it seems to suggest that libraries are just not being lead well.  However, if libraries start to show what they are doing individually to meet a comunities need I think there can be a re-focus to show that libraries are doing a fine job leading themselves and do not need to be guided by grand national programmes that may or may not be suitable for their users.  I think the main point I am trying to get at is that it is not enough to say that the DCMS report is a poorly constructed document.  The next step is to say that despite poor leadership at this high level there is effectively leadership happening at the community level where it really matters.

Wading through the latest DCMS report makes me think of the old Nike slogan: Just Do It April 12, 2010

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I feel like it has been a million years since my last post so I do apologise.  In attempt to get back into a rhythm, I am going to jump into a subject that is a little outside of my depths and that is trying to understand the UK National Government’s relationship with community library service.

Recently, the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) released a document that I believe was meant to outline the libraries changing role in the community.  After the release of this document, two big criticisms emerged.  One was that the document is basically just a list of recommendations with no timetables or action plan.  The other was a criticism of the media for not covering the release of the document instead writing up stories that oversimplified the libraries current struggles.

To these criticisms I would say that in regards to the media, they did push out some horrible stories but covering the document itself would not have been newsworthy.  I have to agree with the first criticism and say that the document is basically a really soft list of vague, more-or-less commonsense ideas.  A list like that is not newsworthy but seeing the impact of implementing those ideas would be.

In the mos recent copy of Library & Information Update, another writer is lamenting how the recent media attention on libraries, in addition to being oversimplified and erroneous also failed to elicit input from actual librarians.  However, I think librarians failed to push their voices out to media outlets.  I think one of the big problems on this side of the Atlantic is that there is an over reliance on national programmes.

If one were to look through the list of 54 Proposals in the DCMS document, I think that out of Proposal 7 through to Proposal 44, which deal with ideas to be implemented mostly by the libraries themselves, 31 of them could be started today.  They could be implemented without the need for government money or oversight.  An example of some of these ideas would be create partnerships in the community, help to get users online and teach them to use online resources effectively, look for new funding avenues, marketing channels, and outreach opportunities.  When I look at this list, I agree that they are commonsense suggestions but when I hear complaints that the report doesn’t have enough timetables and action points all I can think is: Just Do It.  There actually are some pretty decent ideas in there so just run with them.  When you have some new found success based on implementing one of these new ideas, give that success a human interest angle and sell it to the media.  That is a story.  A list of ideas is not.

This idea of just going for it is not just aimed at the British libraries because the Americans need to do it too.  I have a whole different post that I will be doing soon about the crisis over there but at the end of the day when the money starts to dry up if the libraries are delivering a quality service that is meeting the needs of the community there will be an outcry.  If they are waiting from some guidance to come down from on high and in the meanwhile they are just doing the same things there will not be.  At the end of the day politicians want votes.  If closing libraries endangers their ability to get votes, then they are not going to do it.

It’s election time in the UK, a vision of what libraries could be after a three year review may not ensure the safety of libraries but a track record of showing that the library understands the needs of the community and has the ability to help meet them just may.  Anyways, like I say, I’m maybe a little over my head but it makes more sense to me anyways.

The Flight to Stockholm is how much?!?! Why now is the perfect time for more virtual conferences. March 24, 2010

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Hmmm… that picture is smaller than I thought it would be.

Nevermind, it serves its purpose and that is to show that last week I rolled out of bed, made some coffee and then sat on my couch with my cat by my side and listened to a great presentation from Westley Field of Skoolaborate.  It was a really great topic about leveraging virtual worlds like SecondLife to create new learning environments and promote global dialogue.   I am a really big fan of creating alternative learning spaces for those that don’t excel in more traditional school models.  Actually though, the topic is beside the point.  The point I want to make is that the speaker was in Australia and I was in a crowd of people from at least five different countries and we were all engaging in a conversation for the cost of a broadband connection.

To contrast this experience, one of the reasons that I haven’t been contributing to this blog as much as I would like is that I have been applying to every speaking opportunity that comes my way in an effort to make my CV stand out just that little bit extra.  To this end, I have been really pleased with the results of my efforts.  To date, I have been accepted to speak at two conferences and present a poster session at another two; I was even asked to run a skills session at my university.  I don’t want this to come off the wrong way.  I have been getting my fair share of rejection letters as well but I am happy to have some opportunities come my way because I have been putting a considerable amount of time into developing my proposals.  However, it only took one look around for plane ticket prices before I came crashing way back down to earth.

With venues in Sweden and Finland, I was prepared for transportation costs to possibly present some issues.  However, I figured there would be some funding sources available and anyways I could work a little extra here and there and borrow a bit if I had to but it would all be for the greater good to put these four (or five) new bullet points on my CV under the brand new heading “Presentations”.  Those that are in my same position already know but for everyone else any guesses on the price for a roundtrip flight from Detroit to Stockholm in August………………………….. $1800+!!!!!  Now, i didn’t dig around at all so I am likely to find a slightly better price than that but even if I cut it in half what are the chances that I will find funding to cover even the flight costs let alone a place to lay my head, the price of admission, local transportation costs and other little things.

I don’t know where I am going to possibly find this money so there goes the four bullet points, the shiny new heading.  Oh, “Presentations” we hardly even knew ye!  However, I don’t write this just to lament my own loss.  I am wondering how anyone can afford to fly to a conference these days.  Are we all stuck just presenting in our immediate area?  Will an eye cast out into a so-called global conference find only a sea of trust-funders?  I know that conference organizers can’t control the price of air travel but are these conferences still able to meet their target audiences?  Could it not help to offer some space in a virtual environment so that your message can reach more people?  I know some events have begun to offer this and I am now off to hope that the conferences that accepted me will somehow allow me to present in a virtual space.  I hope an alternative like this will be available for at least one of the opportunities that I have been offered.  I have the ideas, I am willing to do the work, I’m just a couple grand short.

Towards a Discovery System for Harvested Open Bibliographic Records March 7, 2010

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Recently, there was a good thread that appeared on the NGC4LIB mailing list.  It started by referencing the impasse between Michigan State University and OCLC over the cost of uploading records to OCLC even after cancelling other services with them.  MSU decided to go with SkyRiver in an effort to save costs and expected to pay $0.23 for each record they would upload to OCLC but then that price disappeared from their website and they were quoted a price of $2.85 a record which would effectively eliminate all their savings.

It got the posters on the thread to start thinking if now was the time to start looking at ways to get bibliographic records shared via an open source discovery system which could harvest records dumped onto OAI-PMH servers.  It is interesting that OCLC, who have done so much for the library community, should take this very business-like tactic to ward of competitors and try to maintain its monopoly.  It is especially strange to hear of drastic rate hikes like this from a non-profit.

I think one of the issues is that OCLC has there hand in so many projects right now and that might mean that they lose out on specialising really well in any one in particular.  The SkyRiver incident does bring up an interesting issue about who owns bibliographic records.  It also brings up an interesting issue about who is best suited to handle the sharing of bibliographic records in an environement with standards that are constantly being changed, modified, and superceded.  It appears that OCLC still relies heavily on Z39.50 for record sharing when it would be much more beneficial to use MARCXML so that the sharing process can be further autmoated and handled largely by a library’s ILS.

One of the last significant points from the thread had to deal with libraries feelings toward OCLC.  It seems that libraries are cautious to do anything that may upset OCLC and MSU are proving good examples of possible reprcussions for those that do.  However, whilst OCLC is meant to be a library’s friend one poster made the excellent comment that when your relationship with your friend is one predicated on fear something is seriously wrong.

I think OCLC offers great service for the library sector but like any business they could benefit from some competition.  Clearly, having a system that allows for the free sharing of bibliographic information would be beneficial for the library community.  If it provides a better service than that offered by OCLC than I think that is one of the issues that an organisation runs into when it tries to do too many things.  However, it seems it will be difficult to even move towards any other type of system when any move invokes such high levels of retribution from OCLC.  In a time, when all libraries are stuggling it seems really inapproriate that OCLC would take a price-gouging approach as a way to try and ward of competitors.  In the current economic climate, all libraries are trying to make their budget stretch as far as possible and OCLC ought to focus on making better services when they are threatened by a competitor rather than engaging in tactics that hurt libraries and hurt the ability to access and share knowlsedge.

Postscript:  Apparently, Open Knowledge Foundation has started a working group on open bibliographic data.  So, hopefully this can provide us with some steps for moving forward.