Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Oh no!

I have been sending my thoughts, prayers and donations to Japan along with the rest of the world. I'm saddened about the recent tragedy and am not really sure what this means for the country, its people and their future. I was extremely relieved that Kelly wasn't over there; there would've been an international Klub Kat rescue mission like none other had she still been there.

However, on a less-important note, I just realized that this disaster and its nuclear fallout will undoubtedly affect Hello Kitty production and distribution! If they're not importing food over, they're probably less concerned with Cute.

This may not seem like a library issue, but I'm expecting the reference inquiries about the Japan disaster's affect on Sanrio to start rolling in any minute now.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Library Quotes of the Day

"Yogurt Moon, I hope your legacy for every library you ever work in is to leave it with a good female orgasm section."

"Oh no. We never open the door to children's programs until around ten minutes before. They'll eat all the food!"

Siva Vaidhyanathan, The Googlization of Everything

I wrote this event summary for the DCLA "Capital Librarian" newsletter and thought I'd share it here as well. It was a very interesting talk, especially in light of the rejection of the Google Books settlement last week. The event was recorded, so hopefully the Library of Congress will post the video online soon.

Siva Vaidhyanathan spoke at the Library of Congress on March 25 about his new book, The Googlization of Everything, and his proposed “Human Knowledge Project.” He opened by discussing the recent rejection of the Google Books settlement by Judge Denny Chin. Judge Chin rejected the settlement not so much because of its content, but because a class action settlement was not the right venue to make sweeping policy decisions about copyright. Vaidhyanathan agreed that Congress should be making policy changes, not private parties negotiating through the court system.
Vaidhyanathan sees the rejection of the settlement as an opportunity for librarians. Now is the time to take stock of what libraries and users want and see if we can find a better way to achieve these goals. Vaidhyanathan’s new book, The Googlization of Everything, was initially inspired by the Google Books Project. Early on, he was uncomfortable with Google’s approach to copyright and worried that they were putting too much weight on the principle of fair use. It was inevitable that Google would be sued, and if their defense failed it could create a dangerous precedent that could threaten the very concept of fair use.
Throughout his presentation Vaidhyanathan stressed that companies aren’t stable, long-term organizations. They are usually very short lived and those that do survive undergo huge transformations. What will happen to the Google Books Project years from now as Google’s own priorities and values change? Why were stable, centuries old institutions like universities and libraries turning to a transitory company instead of scanning books themselves?
Google’s lofty mission statement is to “organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” But unlike libraries, archives, and museums, the Google Books Project was not undertaken for the public good. It is a project to improve Google’s profit margin and in reality it is a bookstore, not a library.
On balance, Vaidhyanathan thinks Google has a positive effect on the world and on our day-to-day lives. But we still need to think critically about our relationship with Google and its activities. Google is a good company, but it’s still a company. The Google Books Project is also generally a good idea, but it has many problems, such as low-quality scanning and bad metadata. Google also routinely violates core values of librarianship like user confidentiality.
Vaidhyanathan sees “Public Failure” as the root cause of the Google Books Project. State institutions fail when they are not given enough resources to carry out their roles in society. When the state fails, private companies step in, as has happened with privatized prisons and private charter schools. Our national system of libraries and universities didn’t have the resources to create a universal digital library, so Google stepped in to do it for us.
There is an opportunity now for libraries to step up and do it better through projects like the Open Book Alliance, the Hathi Trust, and the new Digital Public Library of America. Such a project are based on the core values of librarianship and the accumulated knowledge of the profession.
Vaidhyanathan hopes we’ll follow the model of the Human Genome Project. Initially attempts to map the human genome were publically financed, but underfunded and fragmented. Then the Celera Corporation announced that it planned to privately map the genome at a speed the public efforts could not match. Celera planned to patent gene sequences and use the genome for private profit. In response the scientific community mobilized politically and launched a massive global project to produce an open access genome that would be freely available to all researchers. The public sequence was published in the same week as the Celera sequence. Librarians need to mobilize and work together in the same way to create our own Human Knowledge Project. It will be a long-term effort, but Vaidhyanathan is optimistic that it will be possible and a true universal library can be created; one which will be publically financed, based on the core values of librarianship, and freely available worldwide.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Dollar Bills, Y'all

We all know that library funding has taken some serious hits over the past few years. For many students entering library school, and eventually the library field, one of the biggest decisions is deciding what type of librarian to become: public, special, academic or school media. This decision can be made based on what type of library seems to be the most financially stable - probably not the public library?

That being said, tough financial times cause libraries to get creative. Many feature PayPal donation buttons on their websites; others, including my previous and current libraries, create elaborate fundraisers to entice the public into giving. These are in addition to taxes, bonds and other ways the government pays for libraries.

For whatever reason, (public) libraries love baskets and silent auctions. The usual scenario involves an evening event lasting from two to three hours; tickets generally cost $20 to $35 with a small discount for couples. Wine flows, hors d'oeuvres are passed and money is raised. Perhaps casual entertainment is provided or a raffle is held. Staff may or may not get to attend for free - if they do go for free they usually have to work in some capacity.

Currently, there are about a hundred baskets displayed all around the front of our library. Some have been up for so long they need to be dusted. Almost all of them block some part of the library: the circ desk, the new book shelf, the audiobooks, the DVDs. It's driving me crazy! And while it's supposed to be run by volunteers, they still depend heavily on staff which eats up valuable hours in the workday and may or may not delay library services. I am seriously wondering if we break even after it's all said and done.

I'm realizing that my aesthetic perspective is a combination of less-is-more and the-eye-needs-white-space philosophies. This rings true for my library displays, my office, my home and even my car (no bumper stickers, thankyouverymuch). Ah, but I am in the south, but more specific than that, Appalachia; their idea of simple elegance can be seen every time you walk into a Cracker Barrel.

I guess what I'm saying is that I know (public) libraries need money and there's nothing wrong with fundraisers. However, we must remain mindful that we are public agencies, not for-profit businesses. Displays should be small, concentrated and maybe only two or three weeks prior to the event - not for a month and a half. We serve a wide variety of customers, including small children, special needs groups and those with very little income. A tasteful, focused display is less likely to cause tantrums, unnecessary repetition of explanations, theft or embarrassment than an explosion of high-dollar shiny monstrosities blocking high-traffic areas.

An underlying issue here, which we never talked about in library school, is the reality that in many cases the financial supporters of the library - those terrifying groups of blue hairs and ladies who lunch - may not actually be active users of the library. How do you balance the demands of a high-touch group of donors and the needs of the actual patrons? Do you ply the wealthy with fundraisers and baskets while the poor people populating your computer lab wade through the displays and smudge up the cellophane? What about staff who are being paid hourly wages who can barely afford a ticket and certainly can't buy any of the auction items?

I don't have any answers for this. All I know is that I'm glad I'm not the Easter Bunny; I apparently hate baskets.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Knowledge Transfer

Good news: my contract has been renewed for another year!

When I first took this position, there was one page (3/4 full) of what my predecessor had in the works, and three file folders (slim) of documentation. Most of my first semester on this job was trying to figure out what my position entailed. Granted, I had the job description, but those can be very vague. I decided to create a detailed “E-Resources Librarian Manual” for my successor.

I, of course, remembered how important knowledge transfer is for organizations. (Drucker anyone?) Because I work at a small college, it seems like I work in several different departments. For instance, even though I manage our electronic resources and website, I also do instruction, reference, collection development, and serve on several committees. I thought that it would be easier for my successor to get an overview of important technical information that I had to learn and best practices for the management of those programs.

The bulk of my job is the management of electronic resources, so those sections of my document have way more information than the others. I broke down my “manual” by my different areas of work: I have database administration, statistics, Journal Finder, EZProxy, instruction, website, and so on. Obviously, the areas that I spend most of my time doing are more complete than others. I included information like where to find certain documents in our shared document folder (I have my own for Technical services), URLs to administrator sites that my boss had to email me because my predecessor didn’t, expectations about yearly tasks (i.e. statistics, database reports), and helpful places to look for information.

This “manual” is clearly a document in process simply because information changes or other duties may appear, especially since I seem unable to say no. It makes me more comfortable as an employee because I know that there is clear documentation of what I do, and how I do it.

Friday, March 18, 2011


I've been kind of captivated by the news about HarperCollins, which has cruelly decided that its ebooks will go kaboom after 26 checkouts. The company arrived at this arbitrary number because it seems to think that paper books also go kaboom after 26 checkouts, even though every budget-strapped public librarian knows that isn't even remotely true; see this awesome video for proof:

Every librarian-blogger in the universe has weighed in about the Whole Huge HarperCollins Thing in past weeks and I don't have much to add, except to say that I am glad that librarians are able to rise up as a group and oppose this. There are boycotts and coordinated efforts and angry Canadians, and that is awesome. The ALA president spoke out, and librarians forced the issue so far into the mainstream that even the NYT has had to pay attention. (That article also mentioned something I didn't know: Simon & Schuster and Macmillan won't sell ebooks to libraries at all. Seriously? That lends unhappy credence to the idea that publishers "see us as a problem," as one of my favorite bloggers put it, and makes me a little bit scared about the boycotts... clearly libraries aren't necessary for the ebook bottom line.)

But some of the media coverage is also getting one major thing wrong. The number 26 is not the point; the number 100 or 1200 checkouts wouldn't be the point. The point is that libraries have paid for those ebooks -- like, with money, and there sure isn't a lot of that going around -- and they OWN those ebooks. Getting into a licensing relationship like the one that academic libraries have for journal subscriptions would be hell, and I sincerely hope that #hcod doesn't lead down that path. The fact that academic libraries have gotten used to their sincerely crappy deals doesn't mean that their public comrades should join them.

This plan makes a lot of sense to me. I'd love to throw DRM right out the window where it belongs, but I think the universe isn't ready for it yet and that using copyright to get past the scary specter of licensing is OK for now.

Let's end with a great metaphor by Cory Doctorow, who is always amazingly adept at showing the stupidity of a shoddy argument:
Whether a HarperCollins book has the circulatory vigour to cope with 26 checkouts or 200, it's bizarre to argue that this finite durability is a feature that we should carefully import into new media. It would be like assuming the contractual obligation to attack the microfilm with nail-scissors every time someone looked up an old article, to simulate the damage that might have been done by our careless patrons to the newsprint that had once borne it.