I’ve moved!

I started blogging again, and I’ve migrated over to WordPress.org!  See the new look of Ben’s Bytes at www.benropp.net/blog.  Thanks for visiting!


May 26, 2014 at 9:29 pm Leave a comment

Library 2.0: the Future of Libraries?

This was the title of a presentation I gave to staff at MPOW (my place of work) on [Oct 12].  I’ve posted the Slides on Slideshare.   I have to admit I got a lot of inspiration from other presentations I saw on Slideshare, which I credit in mine.  I’m afraid it’s a bit dry in comparison – I don’t feel up to professional presenter standards of visual inspiration.

Interesting, though – I see myself as a visual person (no pun intended), but what helps me is the breakdown of ideas into bullet points, and separating out the strands and expressing their relation to each other — which is what I aimed to do in this introduction to Library 2.0:

Start with the technology-based definition I like for its simplicity (“Library 2.0 is Web 2.0 in libraries”), followed by an overview of web 2.0 (conceptually, technically, and practically), followed by the more vague, philosophy-of-service definition of Library 2.0 (or L2 as the “library hipsters” are calling it – is that an oxymoron?).  Then a series of examples of Web 2.0 in libraries.  Then a short list of objections to the 2.0 “meme.”  I finish with a set of stats from that Social Media Revolution video (as it happened we didn’t have internet access -grr!) as an answer to the question “Why should we care?” before reiterating how much sense the Library-2.0-as-a-philosophy-of-service definition actually makes for these changing times, when embracing change sensibly is part of that definition (And in spite of the fact that I wish there were a better term for it).

If I were to do it again, I would add some more explicit slides on my conclusions:  Libraries today can and should be a primary place for people to learn about, utilize and perhaps embrace these new trends – since the trends are happening whether we participate or not.  If the public library truly is an information portal for the community, then it should be ready to guide people in the safe and sensible and fun and productive new world of 2.0, social media – to say nothing of preparing them for the even braver new world of “Web 3.0” – the semantic web, etc.  I also might want to sing the praises of Linux, open source, and library self-sufficiency.

There are so many tangential  issues involved, it get’s overwhelming.  I guess that’s why like bullet points.

One thing that I spoke of in Q and A after one of the sessions was the idea that it’s an open question whether or not our community is ready to subscribe to a Twitter feed from the local library.  I don’t know.  Having said that, I then point out, opening a Twitter account for the library is free, if the time to tweet is not, however minimal that tiem commitment may be.

After this experience one concept I want to explore is “Radical trust is a two way street.”    What do you think?

November 14, 2009 at 11:10 pm 3 comments

“The purpose of the library is to preserve the integrity of civilization.”

This is old news in blogosphere time, but I think it has a certain timeless quality.

The Darien Statements on the Library and Librarians” is an inspiring document in its simplicity and scope.  John Blyberg of Darien Library (CT) (and SOPAC creator) explains its modest origins in a brief introduction to this brief but ambitious manifesto.  Though full of gems of plain speaking, I was particularly taken with this one:

Why we do things will not change, but how we do them will.

Then, in a list of things that, “As Librarians, we must” do:

Choose wisely what to stop doing.

I love that.

July 25, 2009 at 10:36 pm Leave a comment

“Blow up the reference desk”, the Empathy Economy

KLA/MPLA 2009 (Kansas Library Association Conference, Wichita, KS)

Session from April 2:

May I Please Blow Up This Reference Desk? The Ten Social Trends that Can and SHOULD Change the Way that Libraries Do Business Tracie Hall, Good Seed Consulting

This was a very interesting presentation because it was about rethinking the services we provide and the manner in which we provide them, but technology was barely mentioned, and the phrases “Web 2.0” and “Library 2.0” were conspicuously absent (two-point-phobia?).  Two slide headings from the presentation put Hall’s argument in a nutshell:

· Libraries Worldwide are Being Compelled to Reevaluate their Services…And Modes of Delivery.

· Static, Inflexible, Fixed Models of LIS Service No Longer Fit Our Needs, Wants, and Expectations of Value-Added Service…To Remain Relevant Libraries Must Play an Expanding Role.

There were some examples given of real libraries doing things differently, but there were as many if not more from the business world. The most important social trend in Tracie Hall’s list actually comes from the world of business: “the rise of the empathy economy.” Starbucks transformed coffee from “from $.03 commodity to $3.60 experience.” This was done by offering a “safe third space” for its customers which was neither work nor home, but one in which they could feel comfortable and relax. Such comfort was enforced by having baristas learn the names of regulars. (In Hall’s view, Panera “trumped” Starbucks by taking this approach a step further by including a measure of table service.) As a business concept, the empathy economy is about designing and fine-tuning the consumer experience and Hall clearly sees the traditional library patron’s experience in drastic need of a makeover.

Some of the social trends Hall identifies are negative – problems to be solved. The most significant of these is what she calls “the platform nine and three-quarters effect,” after the train platform in the Harry Potter books which could only be entered by walking into what appeared to be a brick wall. She also calls this “the return of the mighty gatekeeper.” This gatekeeper effect is something that is well known in traditional libraries and an integral part of an archetype many contemporary librarians have long wished to dispel. For Hall, the effect is both exemplified and perpetuated by the reference desk. This bulwark of traditional library services projects in her view the attitude of an “omniscient Me and uniformed You,” implying a position of privilege behind the desk. While it would be easy to debate the extent to which this is true regarding the literal, physical reference desk, Hall’s argument uses this icon of the library as a metaphor for our traditional and habitual mode of ‘doing business’ as librarians.

Though not mentioned explicitly two of the social trends described in this session have some bearing on “Web 2.0”: The infallibility of the informal peer review, and the new generation Hall refers to as “the New Sensualists.” The “informal peer review” refers to ratings systems and comments on web sites such as Amazon and YouTube. Though not couched in the language of 2.0, this trend is made significant and practical by 2.0 tools. “New Sensualists” is Hall’s name for the new generation also called Generation Y or the Google or MySpace Generation, called “New Sensualists” because of their tactile relation to their computer games, cell phones, iPods, even YouTube and MySpace (audio, video). For this generation, leaving comments on an electronic posting such as a link, a photo, a video, or a blog or e-journal entry has become second nature.  These are the adults of tomorrow.  During the election last year, I found myself thinking:  Someday before too long we will have Presidential candidates who grew up on MySpace, who may have to worry about what they and their friends posting on their MySpace accounts when they were 13 years old — or will they?  What will that world look like?  Libraries have a chance to be on the forefront of these societal transformations.  Many if not most of us  — public libaries I’m thinking of — are still playing catch-up.

Hall’s presentation style lent an urgency and excitement to what she presented as a drastic need for change. In her introduction, she encouraged us to “lean into discomfort,” pointing out that on an air conditioner, the “comfort zone” is also known as the “dead zone.” “There is no lack of ideas in libraries….We have the technology accelerators!” We can rebuild him.

April 21, 2009 at 6:53 pm 1 comment

KLA/MPLA Conference SLK ‘Unsession’ [SLK=State Lib of KS]

After a intro to the State Library’s excellent Website, we got into the topics brought up:

-Give up print subs — and then the [online, State-provided] product goes away
-Open Source Library Automation – KOHA
-Can we access Ebsco Host thru SKL?
-Web 2.0 Apps? Balancing personal and professional.*

*What I learned and am excited about:
WebJunction is a social network!

More to come.

April 2, 2009 at 1:58 pm Leave a comment

On the radar

  • Jessamyn has posted (librarian.net) a link to a video that came out of a “Smithsonian 2.0” 2-day conference which is intentionally provocative.  It depicts a certain  pattern of administrative reaction to suggestions of institutional change of the Web 2.0 variety:

“Web tech guy and Angry Staff Person: An Exaggerated Tale”

Jessamyn also refers to the Metafilter discussion about it (FlickTubeFaceSpacecom), which I admit I didn’t have the patience to read much of.  But I think I may understand her mixed feelings about it:

There are valid points on both sides.  Portraying your partner in dialog as an adversary doesn’t help the conversation or get us any closer to a “2.0-friendly” world.   In a sense both sides are caricatured here, as some of the Metafilter comments show.  The video is a reasonable approximation of what often happens apparently, but it does not do justice to the actual perspective of either side.

Designed to “be provocative,” the video is hoped to spark more constructive dialog about these issues.  Because, of course, what’s needed is more articulate dialog about the actual policy/legal/pragmatic/financial issues involved with this kind of change.  What, precisely, are those concerns, and what, exactly, are the specific benefits to be gained?

  • The actual discussions about these things in real places (not on MyFlicTubeFaceSpace) might benefit from the perspective of the field of information architecture (IA), to which Elyssa Kroski (ilibrarian)has pointed us to an  informative and user-friendly guide:


A snippet:

To understand how an IA affects a project, you might imagine assigning a traditional architect to a building after it’s constructed. It’s a laughable proposition, and yet it happens to this day. Even after the most well-engineered buildings are constructed they are still prone to change. Stewart Brand details this fascinating aspect in his book, How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built. Again, as preposterous as it sounds, we typically place today’s Information Architects in a similar position—assigning them to web sites after some other self-imposed IA has prototyped the site.

March 15, 2009 at 11:27 am 1 comment

Topeka Library Controversy

Jessamyn is right, I think.   The Topeka Library is making headlines, which tell the story better than I could:

Library Journal“Topeka Library Board Restricts Access to Four Books on Sex”

The Topeka Capital-Journal“Library peers dismayed by board’s decision”

(I commented on Jessamyn’s post at Librarian.net, and realized I said enough to adapt it for a post of my own. Here it is.)

Jessamyn suggested that we hadn’t heard the last of this.  In the Capital-Journal article, an ACLU lawyer is quoted as recommending they file suit.  Another lawyer quoted in the article says that he hopes they don’t have to, since

the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library should be using their resources for something worthwhile, not fighting a lawsuit they cannot possibly win.

Which suggests that the case for unconstitutionality is a strong one.  I’m not sure I understand why given that the books will still be available — i.e., they won’t be removed from the collection. Perhaps it is a matter of the stigma created when an adult has to ask a staff member to get one of these books for her — ‘Can I get the Joy of Gay Sex please?’  It becomes a matter of privacy.  The case could be made that an atmosphere of religious condemnation of such materials would be created by such restrictions, in effect infringing on the religious freedom of those who wish to check them out(?).  I’m not making that case — but it could be made.

What is much clearer to me is the case for impracticality:  the impossible situation the library staff is put in by the begged question of what other books rightfully belong in this newly created category of “dangerously sexual” books.  The example of anatomy texts may be a case of hyperbole, but that doesn’t invalidate the slippery slope argument. According to the director of the Topeka Library (as the LJ piece states),

the library has 600-plus books with subject headings relating to sex, sex instruction, sexual behavior, and fertility.

How is one to know what is harmful to minors and what is not? It sounds as though most of them should go behind the counter according to their standards. But who should decide? Librarians get stuck with the dirty work.

The board left the decision on how to restrict access to the books to the library staff.

…and to wonder why no one is worried about the romance novels!  (some of which are more explicitly prurient than R-rated movies).  Maybe they don’t have that kind of romance novel at the Topeka Library?

It is clearly a different matter (and simpler) when access is restricted due to the likelihood of theft, such as the LJ article says is often done with titles such as Playboy and Consumer Reports.  (It states that Playboy is kept behind the desk at Topeka, implying that it is for this reason.)  My public library does this with Rolling Stone.  (I’m pretty sure –but not completely– it’s not due to complaints about that Britney Spears cover.)  This decision is easier to make, since it can be based purely on experience.  “This title has been stolen in the past, therefore we will keep it behind the desk.”  There is no stigma attached to asking to see Rolling Stone or Consumer Reports, though there may be for Playboy.  But the library’s reason for keeping it behind the desk is what is at issue, and makes all the difference apparently.

In my opinion it is more harmful to create the atmosphere of moral condemnation of all things sexual that is a likely result of their action, than it is to allow minors (unadvertised!) access to well-reviewed, popular books about safe and loving sex in today’s world. (And I can’t help thinking that what they really objected to was the one on gay sex, and just threw the others in to be appear more consistent.)

The last line of the Topeka Capital-Journal article is, I think, not without relevance here (spoken in reference to the books in question):

“They are all checked out right now,” he said. “There are waiting lists on all of them. At this point in time, we just need to wait for them to be returned.”

If they even come back!

February 24, 2009 at 1:01 pm Leave a comment

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