Monthly Archives: April 2007

New kid on the block

The Library of Congress now has a blog.  Great fun, with all of the sorts of interesting stuff you’d expect from the LoC.

If you haven’t already done so, wander over and take a look.

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The Doomed E-book

DH passed along a terrific article in ComputerWorld magazine about “Why E-books are Bound to Fail.”  I’m in agreement with the author, never having understood the appeal of the things, myself.

He has some very cogent arguments and the article is worth a read.  My favorites:

They’re expensive.

There are many subtle, minor disadvantages to e-books. For example, they’re expensive. The hardware costs hundreds of dollars. Worse, books tend not to be hugely discounted in electronic form. The paperback version of “The Google Story: Inside the Hottest Business, Media, and Technology Success of Our Time,” by David A. Vise and Mark Malseed, costs $11.20 on Amazon.com. The same book in electronic format on eBooks.com costs $9.95. You save $1.25. The reason is that the value of a book lies mostly in the intellectual property, not the wood pulp that constitutes the physical book. So e-books aren’t cheaper.

People love paper books.

In other words, e-books are not, and cannot be, superior to what they are designed to replace.

People who care enough about books to spend $25 billion on them each year tend to love books and everything about them. They love the look and feel of books. They like touching the paper, and looking at words and illustrations at a resolution no e-book will ever match. They view “curling up with a good book” as an escape from the electronic screens they look at all day. They love to carry them, annotate them, and give them as gifts. Book collecting is one of the biggest hobbies in the world.

Boy, that’s me in a nutshell, as DH will attest.  We have books in almost every room of the house.  (I refuse to put them in the bathrooms, but they’re pretty much everywhere else.)  I buy books like some women buy shoes.

The author goes on with a very good point:

So many predictions about the future have failed because futurists tend to overemphasize the possible over the desirable. They give too much weight to technology and not enough to human nature.

Yes, yes, yes.  I would posit that the codicil to that is “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

He concludes,

[…]do people want to “curl up” with a battery-operated plastic screen?The obvious answer is no.

And that’s the simple reason why e-books will never even come close to replacing paper books.

Amen, brother.

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Filed under Libraries and Librarianship, Techie stuff

Sleepless in Arkansas

There’s a father in Bentonville, Arkansas who is demanding that the director of the Bentonville Public Library be fired. His sons managed to find their way to a book entitled “The Whole Lesbian Sex Book” and his sons, who are 14 and 16, were apparently so disturbed that it caused “many sleepless nights in our house.”

Oh, and he’s demanding $20,000. For their pain and suffering, no doubt.

According to the father, the boys were looking for a book on military academies and somehow stumbled across this book.

Ahem.

There are so many things to say about all this I hardly know where to begin. First of all, it’s a public library. Stuff might be in there that you don’t want your kids reading. It’s your right as a parent to make that decision, but don’t expect the librarian to make it for you. That’s why it’s a public library, and not your kid’s school library.

Secondly, military academies are classified somewhere in the 300’s. “The Whole Lesbian Sex Book” is classified at 613.9. Nice tale for Dad, boys, but you’ve gotta be lookin‘ for this one, and it ain’t with the military stuff.

Years ago I spent a month or so in Bentonville. I worked for Wal-Mart at the time, and their corporate offices are headquartered in Bentonville. At the time it was a town of about 10,000 people. Buckle of the Bible Belt. Nice people. Freaked by the one inch of snow we had when I was there.

Now, I don’t know why the father is quite so upset. The lesbian thing, perhaps? Frankly, I find it very hard to believe that two teenaged boys were “very disturbed” by this book. (Though when I related this story to Dear Husband, his smiling comment was “Oh, they were disturbed all right.” )

I’m appalled that the director is in trouble for having a perfectly acceptable book in the collection. I’m disturbed that a parent is upset because their kids checked a book out of the library, and instead of using it as an opportunity to have a conversation with the kids, is using as a censorship opportunity. I’m upset that the “solution” is to pay him.

Luckily, it looks like Bentonville isn’t giving in to this nonsense.

[…]the city’s attorney dismissed Adams’ claim as baseless. She said the book is not pornographic.

“There is not a valid legal concern here,” Camille Thompson said. “In fact, (the request for money) made me question his motivation.”

Amen, Camille!

The library board, unfortunately, isn’t quite as open-minded.

The library’s advisory board voted earlier this month to remove the book from circulation. Board member George Spence said he found the book crude, but said it could be replaced with one taking a “more sensitive, more clinical approach.”

In an e-mail Thursday, Adams said that “God was speaking to my heart that day and helped me find the words that proved successful in removing this book from the shelf.”He said he would fight any effort to put the book back on shelves.”Any effort to reinstate the book will be met with legal action and protests from the Christian community,” Adams wrote in the e-mail.

As a Christian, I wish people like this would shut up. Gives the rest of us a bad name. (Of course, being Catholic, I’m not sure I was considered Christian in Bentonville. When I asked where the Catholic church was, I was met with a blank stare. It was an odd experience, since there’s a Catholic church on every block in some parts of Milwaukee, where I grew up. Chicago, too. But I digress.)

Oh, and Dad? I’m pretty sure the boys will be fine.

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Good God.

I’ve never been a particular fan of Dickens, as I find most of his work to be….well….Dickensian.  I prefer my literary retreats to be a bit less dark.

The Brits, however, are embracing their inner Dickens, and have felt compelled to create the Charles Dickens Theme Park.

In Dickens World, rat catchers hunt vermin on London’s cobbled streets, pickpockets roam the alleys — and visitors line up for a fun-tastic water ride.

Lovely.  The story continues….

The indoor attraction includes a central square of cobbled streets and crooked buildings, where staff dressed as pickpockets and wenches will mingle with the crowds. Visitors who pay the $25 admission charge — $15 for children — will have the chance to see the Ghost of Christmas Past in Ebeneezer Scrooge’s haunted house, be hectored by a schoolmaster at Dotheboys Hall — the dismal school from “Nicholas Nickleby” — and peer into the fetid cells of notorious Newgate Prison.

Wow.  I don’t even know where to go with this one.  Somehow, I doubt that Dickens was intending to make “wenches” and pickpockets glamorous.  Or entertaining in this sense.

Is it just me, or is this really creepy?

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The adoption of technology in rural Minnesota: Beyond the tipping point

I was in St. Peter, Minnesota on Thursday for a Rural Sustainability Workshop. One of the visitors to the workshop was Marnie Werner, Program Manager for the Center for Rural Policy and Development in St. Peter, MN.

The center was created in 1997 by the legislature to be a think tank and research institute on rural issues. The center does research on rural issues – education, health care, technology – and has been doing an Internet study since 2001.

The results are in for the 2006 study on Internet adoption, and Marnie came to share the results with the group.

Broadband in 2001 was still an exotic technology. The technology adoption rates in 2006: 68.7% own computers; 49% of all households have high speed internet (broadband) in Minnesota. In rural communities, computer ownership and Internet connectivity increased only slightly over last year, but Broadband adoption rose sharply – has increased 13.5% in the last year.

Age and income are a huge factor and predictor of computer ownership and broadband adoption. Older adults have the lowest rates of adoption, and low income households have the lowest rates.

Satisfaction with connection speed – broadband users are much more satisfied than dial-up users. Many more applications are using more bandwidth, making it easier to download files, view photos, etc. 3/4 of the population gets their internet access in a bundle with cable. As a result, it’s difficult to determine the actual cost of internet access.

Reasons for not adopting broadband – 40% felt it was too expensive. 35% felt they didn’t use the internet enough. 22% of rural respondents would like broadband, but it is not available.

Hours per week spent online: used to be about even between dial-up and broadband; now is a significant difference. Broadband users spend significantly more time online.

Applications: universally everyone emails. Significant difference in online shopping between dial-up and broadband, as well as with VOIP, instant messaging, downloading music, and working from home.

Impact of children in the household on broadband adoption – households with children are much more likely to have broadband than households without children.

Broadband is now at the tipping point; it’s no longer exotic. Metro areas continue to outstrip rural areas in accessibility. While availability is not the primary barrier to adoption, it is still a barrier in some parts of Minnesota. Currently the consequences of being on the wrong side of the digital divide are modest, but that is rapidly changing.

In conclusion, this will induce policymakers to look at the issue of high speed internet access, to stop looking at it as a luxury and start looking at it as an infrastructure issue like roads.

The librarians in the workshop had a lively discussion on the implications this has for libraries. For libraries, this means that it is all the more imperative to offer high-speed access to our patrons who might not have that access at home. The digital divide has huge implications for the public library, and means that the library is working to level the playing field. Patrons can use the library’s computers to search and apply for jobs. Children use the computers to do homework, many times that involve online assignments. Senior citizens will use the computers to access email.

Many of the cities represented have limited access to broadband. The libraries usually have high-speed access, but it is not unusual for the citizens to not have that access. There are still pockets of no access or very limited access. People in town might have access, but people on farms outside of town may not.

People may have a computer at home, but their computer is either older and not capable of faster applications, so they’ll use the library’s computers. Travelers have discovered the public library for email access or travel plans. Business people will stop in over lunch. People will use the library’s computers if their personal computer is broken and being fixed.

More and more often, employers are requiring that their job application be completed online. While people might have access at home, they not infrequently need assistance and look to the libraries for the technological expertise to help them. At this point, many of the libraries noted that people were coming in to do their taxes online.

When asked what patrons were using the computers for, they listed: license renewals, taxes, maps, FAFSA, boarding passes, homework, games, music, immigration appointments, training modules, online classes, eBay, car shopping, real estate shopping, job reporting, genealogy, health information, transcripts for schools, checking, travel planning, weather information, dating, job hunting, investment information, instant messaging.

No doubt the list could go on and on. It was mentioned that the immigration folks note on their website that the forms need to be filled out online, and that if you don’t have a computer at home you can use one at the public library. Newspapers are noting that libraries help close the digital divide.

Libraries offer access, basic training, and relevant content. Librarians need to keep all this in mind and bring it up, over and over if necessary, to the decision-makers in their communities and their states.

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Filed under Customer Service, Libraries and Librarianship, Techie stuff

No card for you….

There has got to be a story behind this story (emphasis mine):

Lansing – Do you have a constitutional right to check out books from the library? The Michigan Supreme Court this week will consider a case that could have major implications for the state’s 388 public libraries.

It pits a resident in Bloomfield Hills against the nearby Bloomfield Township Public Library, which refuses to sell him a nonresident library card.

Bloomfield Hills is one of the country’s wealthiest cities, but doesn’t have a library.

Both sides say library users throughout Michigan could be hurt depending which way the high court rules.

Uhmmm….huh? Refuses to sell him a library card? I can understand refusing to give him a card, if he’s not entitled to it, but refusing to sell him one?

The library’s web site has a link to a Q&A document that explains the currently contentious relationship between the two cities, along with links to the various and sundry court cases. Yikes.

I’ve read the Q&A document. The tone of the document suggests to me that this discussion has been going on for a while now, and it’s gathering steam as it goes steadily downhill. In a nutshell, when the Bloomfield Township Public Library opened its doors, Bloomfield Hills didn’t have a library, and so the two cities (townships – whatever) entered into an agreement for library services. When the contract was up, the township asked the city to pay what it considered to be its fair share of the library’s operating costs, and the city refused.

To quote from the document (emphasis mine):

Q: Why can’t the Library negotiate a deal with the plaintiffs and resolve this issue?
A: BTPL Trustees are eager to reach an agreement with Bloomfield Hills to resume full use of the library by City residents. However, they are not prepared to continue subsidizing library service to Bloomfield Hills or any other community. Rather, they expect any community who wants to use a Township service to pay its fair share of the cost of operating that service. They find it particularly ironic that a City that ranked in the 2000 Census as the fourth most wealthy community in the nation would seek to have its public services subsidized by a neighboring community.

Oof-da, as my Scandinavian bretheren would say.

The document goes on (a bit later)

Q: What about City residents who feel they are disadvantaged by not having full access to the Township library?
A. Their lack of access is due to a decision by their own City Commission, which made the decision to terminate the contract. City residents should focus their energy and attention on urging their City Commission to reach an equitable agreement with the Library.

Wow. The tone of that answer is….chilly. I can imagine some Uber-Librarian saying something like that to someone inquiring about the situation. Yeesh.

OK. So, the township and the city are fighting over dollars, and the city has grown into the Big Rich Kid Next Door. Fine. I suppose someone figured the only leverage the library had was to deny service, thereby forcing the city’s hand.

But, boy, this makes the library look bad. They talk a lot about this being between the township and the city, but the bottom line is that the library looks like the mean guy in this fight. Wasn’t there a way to allow the city’s residents to use the library until all this got sorted out? So you charge $50 for a card. Or even $100. At least people could use the library.

Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be about?

I know funding is important….but yikes, people.

 

 

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Gosh

Walt Crawford at Walt at Random has posted about Five Blogger Heroes (Sort of.)  And I’m one of them.  I’m incredibly pleased and humbled to be mentioned.

I just got my copy of his new book, “Balanced Libraries: Thoughts on Continuity and Change.”  It’s a great read (and I don’t say that because he quotes me – though I will admit that is what prompted me to buy the book.)

This is the sort of book I wish I had been able to read when I was in grad school.  It’s a wonderful treatise on the importance of balance in our libraries, which is a subject near and dear to my heart.  It discusses the library as place, collections and services, the generations, and much more.  I’m only part-way through the book, and am looking forward to reading the whole thing.

I highly recommend it!   You can get your own copy here.

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The Woes of the Jackson County Libraries

Get your books back to the library today, those of you in Jackson County, Oregon.  Your libraries close tomorrow.

These libraries are federally funded.  Seems like a bad idea, as you never know what the federal government will do at any given moment.  If a library is funded locally, there is a buy-in – literally and figuratively – by the local citizens who actually use the library.  On a federal level, it’s hard to get excited about some group of libraries somewhere in Oregon.

First, a bit of history (emphasis mine):

Some detail of the history is that in the 1860s, the federal government gave the Oregon and California (O & C) Railroad Company a land grant. Property was to be sold, at a set price, to promote population growth and fund construction of the railroad. As Jackson County’s population grew, it became dependent on property taxes from those lands. Because of mismanagement by the railroad, the federal government confiscated the unsold and improperly sold land and returned it to public ownership, which cut taxable property value almost in half.

An agreement was negotiated in the early 1900s under which logging revenue from those lands was shared between the county and the federal government. This replaced the lost property tax to the county and provided revenue to the federal government to manage public lands. Additionally, revenue from the U.S. Forest Service went to the specific purpose of funding roads and local schools.

Revenue sharing was lucrative to the county. Between 1958 and 1963, no record of assessed property taxes exists. For perspective, in 1985, Jackson County received $850,000 in property taxes and more than $10.3 million from O & C revenue. In 1993, O & C revenues sharply declined with reduced harvests and environmental issues, and today the tables have turned. Property tax has overtaken O & C revenue as the biggest single source of revenue to the general fund. O&C revenues are in the form of safety-net funding (Public Law 106- 393), instead of harvests, and that funding is now expired.

Further explanation (again, emphasis mine):

Twenty years ago, it seemed as if every other vehicle on Oregon highways was a logging truck. Back then, a lot of trees came from vast expanses of federal land in this state. The land is public, so it can’t be taxed. To make up for that, the government shared with counties the money it earned from timber sales. The arrangement worked well for decades, but environmental concerns have all but stopped logging in federal forests. So, in 2000, Congress created a safety net. Payments based on past timber harvests in rural counties in 41 states would continue for six years. It was a $400 million-a-year federal subsidy. Oregon received the most — $150 million. The last checks were sent in December, and now the counties are facing huge budget holes. In Medford recently, a bookish crowd gathered in support of libraries. Jackson County plans to shut all 15 of its libraries on April 7.

So, now what?   The Senate has approved a sizable amount of funding (yay!) but have tacked it onto the military funding bill (WHY????) virtually guaranteeing it will be vetoed.  Thanks for nothing, guys.

If this land can’t be taxed, thereby preventing the counties from raising the monies they need to support the libraries, then the feds need to come up with a solution.  They need to pass a bill – ALL BY ITSELF – that will do this.

But the situation is a bit more complicated, as it turns out.

…some members of Congress want to change the safety net program. They say Oregon is getting too much of the money, while counties there have some of the lowest local taxes in the country. Residents are accustomed to having services they don’t pay for. “These payments were intended as transition payments for these communities,” says Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). “They’ve been in transition now for 15 years, and I think the Congress has never been intending to just have a permanent federal subsidy.”

So the folks in the federal government aren’t all together on the funding issue.  The question is, why haven’t Oregon voters approved funding for these libraries?  They ARE their libraries, after all.  There’s been quite an outcry about the closing….but no one has stepped up to the plate with some dollars.

The library has done yeoman’s work trying to educate the public on what’s going on, why libraries are important, and why people should advocate on their behalf.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t been enough.

Tomorrow the libraries close.

Hopefully, someone will come up with a solution to all this.  It’s awful to think that an entire county will lose its libraries.  There will be a levy in May, where the voters can authorize funding, and the county commissioners have pledged to earmark the funds for the library.

Get out there and vote, people of Jackson County.  Your libraries depend on it.

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…By any other name

Barb at Multitype Librarian posted yesterday about yet another local school who has eliminated their school media center specialist.  This is happening more and more, and it’s appalling.  But I’m not surprised.

I am of the firm belief that the school media folks did themselves an immense disservice when they decided (I’m not sure when) to rename themselves School Media Specialists, and the school library the Media Center.

I assume that the reasoning was that libraries were more than just books and the librarians were doing more than just checking out books.  Fair enough.

The problem is, no one knows what a School Media Specialist IS.   When I entered the library biz, I started hearing the term.  My first reaction was confusion.  What does the media specialist do?  Help the librarian?  I was gently informed that the school media specialist is the librarian.

They had renamed themselves.  And thereby obscured who they are and what they do, virtually guaranteeing that no one would have any compunction about eliminating them.  Frankly, the first time I heard the title, I thought that person was the A/V guy.  Showing my age, I know…..but the people on the school boards ARE MY AGE.

We all know what a librarian is and what they do.  (Mostly.  But that’s another post.)  But when you obscure the issue by calling yourself a School Media Center Specialist, you confuse the issue.  A school board member might think twice about getting rid of The Librarian.  The A/V Guy?  Anyone can do that.

The horse is out of the barn now, so I don’t know how difficult it would be to change things back to the way they used to be.  But if I were in a school now, by God, I’d be The Librarian and I’d work in the School Library.

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Beauty

Years ago I was having a conversation with a priest of my acquaintance. He related the story of his first assignment, in a desperately poor parish in New York. This was one of those Catholic churches in the old style – stained glass windows, soaring arches, carved architectural pieces, and lots of gold and silver.

He was ranting one day about how the Church should take all of the valuables and melt them down or sell them, and give the money to the poor in the area. Hearing this, one of the parishioners commented, “Oh no! Don’t you see? This is one of the few spots of beauty in our lives. We need this.”

I was reminded of this yesterday, when DH and I visited a local church. It was built in the utilitarian 60’s, when everything was constructed with cement block and no style. There weren’t even windows in the church itself – though the beautiful old stained glass windows from the former building were hung as art in the hallways. The church was cold and dark and unfriendly. Don’t get me wrong – the people in the parish couldn’t have been more welcoming and friendly. But the space they had to worship in? Awful.

So this got me thinking about our libraries. My former library in Sidney was also built in the 60’s, with the same cement-block-not-wasting-money-here style. We did out best to make it as warm and welcoming as we could (and we did a pretty good job, if I do say so myself.) But in and of itself, the building was typical mid-60’s ugly. There are, unfortunately, a lot of those out there.

Segue to the lovely old Carnegie libraries that still dot the landscape. While not terribly practical (why did all of them have those enormous staircases leading to the front door?) they were beautiful. Warm wood, large windows to let in the light, fireplaces in some, stained glass in others. Walk into these buildings and the serenity enfolds you. You want to find a good book, curl up in a chair, and stay awhile.

While not my personal favorite, there are a number of lovely new libraries out there, too: the Seattle Public Library and the Minneapolis Public Library, to name a very few. But the concept is the same – welcoming places. Inviting places.

A library should be a place of sanctuary. A place that invites you to stay a while.

While we’re busily choosing the technology we’re offering in our libraries, and what ILS system, and whatever other technology issue we’re grappling with at the moment, let’s not forget the library itself.

Do we have comfortable chairs that invite our patrons to curl up and stay awhile? Do we have lots of natural light, or if that’s not possible, lots of soft, warm light for reading? Is the library a place where you feel welcomed?

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